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Tree Brings Down Power Lines in South Arlington

by ARLnow.com November 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm 4,798 44 Comments

(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) A large tree fell and brought down power lines on Walter Reed Drive between South Dinwiddie Street and South Wakefield Street.

The falling lines caused power to briefly go out over a wide swath of the county. Power in much of south Arlington and parts of north Arlington flickered on and off for a minute before, in most areas, eventually coming back on.

As of 12:30 a.m., the power was still out in the Fairlington area. At the time, Dominion was reporting that 1,729 customers were without power.

Witnesses say they saw a very bright flash in the sky just before the lights went dark.

Just saw a bright flash of light in South Arlington (we are just north of Arlington Blvd, and saw the light in the sky, resembling lightning, about 10 minutes ago). Our lights flickered on and off, and now we hear fire trucks in that direction… Ironic on a night when Dominion was holding a meeting about adding a new transmission line.

The flash could be seen as far away as Westover.

From a friend’s backyard, directly behind the old Reed school at 19th and Madison, saw an enormous blue green flash in the sky–once, then again. We also heard a low roaring sound, like a very transformer blowing. The flash lit up the entire sky in a color I’ve never seen before, a blue/green like copper sulfate in a flame. My friend, a physicist and amateur astronomer, said he had never seen the like either.

Walter Reed Drive is expected to remain shut down between South Wakefield Street and South Dinwiddie Street “throughout the day” while crews clean up the mess and replace several utility poles. It will likely be closed for the evening rush, we’re told.

As of 12:10 p.m, Dominion reports that 374 customers are still without power in south Arlington.

Photos courtesy Megan Finnerty

  • novadancer

    Hmmm. I live in south arlington and we definitely have no power!

  • Felix the Cat

    Fairlington is completely without power. It’s okay, it’s not like Arlington County cares about us anyways.

  • Evan Harvey

    We heard three loud booms at 10:40pm or so, and the power seems to be out all through the northern part of Fairlington.

  • where

    Where did the tree fall? The news just said Columbia Pike and Walter Reed.

  • JG

    Still no power in Fairlington Villages. Hope it comes back on soon so my baby won’t freeze in his crib 🙁

  • megan

    We live on Walter Reed near Dinwiddie St. The power pole in front of our house is snapped at a 90 degree angle. The firemen made us come back inside because the line is still live. We think the tree is down on Walter Reed near Wakefield but it’s hard to see. The sound and the light flashes were extraordinary and quite scary.

  • Deb

    What caused the tree to fall?

  • ian

    My power flicker like three or four times and went on for a few mins, I live in Lyon Park

  • Mike in Fairlington

    Power is still out in Fairlington and according to Dominion Electric power outage hotline, they “anticipate power being restored sometime between 1 AM and 4 AM”…

  • Dave

    I was driving home on the Toll Road from Herndon and saw the flashes from the 267/66 Spur in Tysons.

  • Roddy Kamuf

    No power still in Fairlington! I’m regretting leaving Rockville, MD. Stuff like this never happens in MD!

  • DB

    Small point, but I think you mean “long exposure” photography, not “time-lapse.” The former is a single exposure lasting an extended time, the later is multiple exposures over time, usually displayed in sequence to show events over the passage of time. I hope Dominion has the power back on for everyone. In Arlington Forrest, our power flickered but didn’t go out entirely. We heard the “Powerline arcing to ground” or “transformer blowing up” type noise, similar to the many which happened during hurricane Isabel in September 2003.

  • ando

    LOL @ roddy. Are you joking? Why don’t you as Montgomery county how happy they are with pepco?

  • Just to update: Arlington Alert reports that S. Walter Reed Dr. will be closed all day, between S. Wakefield St. and S. Dinwiddie St., while crews repair the downed power lines.

  • KSE

    Still no power in The Arlington condos. I am at the corner of Walter Reed and King. Dominion hotline says to expect power back between 1 and 4pm! That would make it about a 16 hour outage. I heard nothing and saw no flashes.

  • Ohhhh that’s what that green flash was! There was definitely one big one and then two smaller ones. I thought something crazy was happening in the parking lot below me. I’m in Shirlington facing south. That’s a pretty big flash.

  • Seth

    I saw the flash last nite all the way in DC by the white house. Amazing emerald green.

  • Katie

    Wow! Just south of Columbia Pike off Walter Reed here–only had the flickering.

  • Sb

    The flash was incredible! I was sitting right by the window off walter reed, but further up toward glebe. Our lights dimmed but didn’t go out thankfully–I’ve had enough of that after 5 times this summer!

  • Oompah Lumpa

    I live in Windgate I at the intersection of Walter Reed and Wakefield – about 100 yards from where the power line went down. Last night I was putting my son to bed in his crib and saw and heard the explosion from the window. I thought our neighborhood transformer had literally exploded. It was like Fourth of July, except not really.

  • Sunny617

    Oh good…that explains the three bright-green flashes I saw over Arlington last night (around 10:30??) as I was driving east on 66. Thought I was nuts.

  • Tim

    I too saw the flashes – 3 in total – looking SE from high rise apt baclcony near Rt. 7 and Columbia Pike. Sky turned brilliant green – made all street/building lights within view flicker – lasted maybe a second – then maybe 3-5 seconds later a low frequency pulsating hum was heard. This happened three times in total – maybe 20 seconds between each occurence. The sky was cloudy so that accounts for the entire sky turning green – but whatever the flashes were – their source was definitely up in the sky. After the first one – I was already looking up and could see the brightest spot was definitely way up in the sky – though obscured by the cloud cover. Ball lightning possibly? Would a downed power line cause a plasma ball several thousand feet in the air? Occurred at 10:35 – as I made sure to remember the time since it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

    • Tim

      After some more investigation – it seems this is a common occurence – the light seemingly appears from the sky – but more than likely is just the lower cloud layers reflecting the light of the exploding transformer. Green because of some of the metals in the transformer.

  • Interesting blog! I’ve included it on a site I’ve created, which is a compilation of some of the best blogs in the city.

  • JackFan

    I live in The Arlington condos and it is hard to believe we still have no power. What the heck Dominion?

    • Lou

      They’ll get the power back and everything cleaned up just in time for the storms later today.

  • Jon love Steven

    This is exactly why we need to bury all power lines in this county. I just had some crazy ass contractor working for Dominion come onto my property and top my maple tree when there was no need to top it. Just cut the branches near the power lines. I hate that they will kill a natural resource that cools my home in the summer and provides a beautiful canopy for my yard. Their war on trees is unnecessary. Just bury the lines. The cable and phone lines should be buried, too. Yes, it costs money, but so does everything else! Paying more for power because the tree that used to shade your house is no longer protecting you from the sun because Dominion topped the tree, killing it, and it fell down on the power lines, costs money. Having a tree fall on the power lines costs money to repair. Having no power for a week because the trees fall down during tropical storms and blizzards and ice storms and “whatever” costs money. Every time a power line falls, and you have no power for more than half a day, you need to throw out the food in your refrigerator, that costs money. When someone crashes their car into a power pole and the power goes out, that costs you money. So, save us long term money and bury the lines!

    • Oompah Lumpa

      So wait.. would you be in favor of burying the power lines or not?

      • Jon love Steven

        Yes. Thanks for noticing. I wanted to make sure to cite examples of how, over the long term, the costs (monetary and environmental) associated with not burying the lines, are probably as great or greater than the short term costs of burying the lines. It would be very expensive, and cause great short term disruption. But, I think it would be worth it. Since I have my forever home in Arlington, it would be worth it to me. If we need an example of how much better things could look, take a look at the R-B corridor where most of the lines are already buried and look at Ohio drive in North Arlington, where the lines are buried and the street has a wonderful tree canopy that hangs over the street. It is like driving through a living tunnel. And, if a tree should fall, the power, cable and phone service is not disrupted.

        • uhh

          ha your forever home? I don’t think I’ve heard that term used outside of adopting pets.

          • Oompah Lumpa

            Well said. Couldn’t something be said about a “living tunnel” of utility lines? They’re not living, but they are sure a LIVE. Get it?

    • Lacey Forest

      Burying utility lines is not a great idea. I speak from more than 10 years with the phone company. A utility line hanging in the air is in a pretty benign environment. It can take many, many, years of rain, snow and sunshine. When you bury a cable, you are immediately putting it in a hostile environment. Water is always trying to infiltrate the cable. Junctions and splices are even more difficult to maintain. Those installation are in airtight, nitrogen-pressurized chambers. Maintenance of underground lines is more problematic and expensive, and people occasionally sever them by excavation. Repair causes much more disruption. If you have a fault, they are more difficult to locate and it requires more effort to get to them and repair them. Yes, occasionally something falls on a line or someone drives into a utility pole but the damage is obvious and so is the repair. There is little upside to routinely burying utility lines. Yes, once in a blue moon you have some event like a major ice storm that causes widespread outages that can last for extended periods but the costs incurred from fixing these events don’t come close to equaling the costs incurred from burying utilities and maintaining buried utilities.

      • Jon love Steven

        Lacey – you raise some very legitimate concerns. I disagree with your general premise that “Burying utility lines is not a great idea” since we already have buried utility lines in the County and are continue to bury the line (see Wilson Blvd). If burying utilities lines was not a great idea, why are we doing it in the first place? Newer technology continues to help us identify and locate utility issues.

        I noticed that you never once mentioned environmental costs. It is not just about money. It can’t be. We are not that greedy. Air conditioning costs can be reduced by shielding homes with deciduous trees on the south side of houses. Not only does this save customers money, but it also helps reduce demand, which means less need for energy generated by coal fired power plants. Also, trees clean the air, can help reduce damaging wind speed, and produce oxygen. Trees also help reduce rain run-off and erosion, reducing the need to increase capacity at the water treatment plant (keeping water bill lower). It also helps clean the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay (meaning less federal clean up money needed to clean the Bay-a bit). Dominion would not have to hire tree contractors to trim trees, the saving can be passed on to the consumer. It is not like there is no maintenance on above ground utility lines. They need to be replaced, too. Trees still need to be cut down trees for utility poles. The industrially pressure-treated wood used for many poles can pose a limited health risk. While they are no longer treated with arsenic and chromium, many of the poles still standing were. Finally, I don’t know if you care about aesthetics (I mean no harm, you did not mention) or if money is your only concern (the points you raised), but to me I find trees beautiful. I find utility lines ugly. It matters to me how a neighborhood looks. When this is factored into the equation, I feel it counters some of your legitimate arguments.

  • Sarah

    That was kind of scary last night! That pole is almost right in front of my bedroom!
    Hopefully they get the power back on before dinner time but if now I have a freezer filled with steaks and chicken plus a gas grill on the patio. Neighborhood cookout anyone?

  • Jesus

    It’s god punishing Arlington for re-electing the county board, again.

  • Keren Batiyov

    Has the power been restored to S Wakefield Street, right off of Walter Reed?

  • JackFan

    Nope. No power still. Apparently this is the most complex power line in recorded history…

    • Keren Batiyov

      Arrrrrrgh!!! Instead of worrying about Wikileaks cables the powers that be need to be focusing uncomplicating electrical cables!!!!!!

  • Luce

    Does anyone know if Walter Reed is closed off, or if we can get into the parking lot at The Arlington condos?

  • Claremont

    Lots of trucks and manpower still present – they don’t look like they are leaving anytime soon…. 🙁

  • David

    Anyone know when power is expected to be turned back on? At the Shirlington Library and would love to go home. (7:22 pm) 🙁

  • Mel

    Power’s back! According to our flashing clocks, it came back on at 6:30. We’re in the Arlington too. I didn’t see the flash, but I did almost hit the tree because the power guys let me drive down Walter Reed toward it at 5 am!

    • Right, Dominion tells me that power was restored to all Arlington customers as of 6:30 p.m.

      “The tree that brought down power lines last night at 10:30 PM caused 3 poles and 18 cross arms to break,” said spokesperson Le-Ha Anderson. “The 60 feet tall oak tree with 30 inch diameter trunk did major damage to our facilities when it fell.”

  • David

    Power came on last night! Yay!


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