- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

More than 1,200 homes in Poolesville were without heat and hot water yesterday morning after an equipment malfunction interrupted gas service to residents.

Washington Gas representatives said a regulator at a gate station froze but was fixed by noon. However, to fix the problem crews had to interrupt service to the Poolesville customers, many of whom heat their homes with gas.

The crews also had to take the time-consuming step of visiting each house to relight the pilots.

Miguel Gonzalez, a Washington Gas spokesman, said about 100 technicians went door to door to restore the service.

Crews were hoping to complete work by last night, but some customers may not have been home, and Mr. Gonzalez was uncertain when the work would be complete.

For residents who woke to find about 6 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens, the lack of heat made for an uncomfortable day.

“It’s rough,” said Jonnie Ferrell, 57. “It’s very rough. We keep asking them, and they don’t know when they’re going to get the gas on.”

Mrs. Ferrell said her husband has emphysema and it was too difficult for them to leave the house to go someplace warm.

“We’ll stick it out together,” she said. To help out, her daughter brought her an electric space heater.

Shari Stream, 41, had the same idea. She left her house yesterday at about 2:30 p.m. to buy a space heater.

Miss Stream woke up chilly that morning and listened for the furnace to kick in. When it didn’t, she checked the thermostat, which showed the temperature was about 55 degrees inside the house. By the time she left the house, it had dropped to 46 degrees. But she was taking it in stride.

“It’s kind of fun and different,” she said. To keep warm, she and her two teenage daughters stayed active by shoveling snow from six of her neighbors’ cars in the parking lot in front of her townhouse.

“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Miss Stream said.

The American Red Cross set up a warming station in the cafeteria at Poolesville High School, where residents could go if their homes became too cold. And Montgomery County Fire and Rescue crews went door to door offering safety tips and checking to see whether elderly residents needed rides to the warming station.

“Our biggest concern was their comfort,” said Battalion Chief Scott Graham. He said about 35 extra firefighters from around the county were called to Poolesville to conduct the notifications and offer safety tips about using alternative heat sources.

Few people took advantage of the station, except for an elderly woman who was transported to the station by ambulance.

“Business isn’t booming right now, but we’re here,” said Dale Deitermeyer, 69, a Red Cross volunteer working at the high school “That’s the important thing.”

Chris Paladino, the executive director of the Montgomery County office of the Red Cross, said the warming station would be open until Washington Gas says they have most of the heat restored.

Utility crews were out on the streets by mid-afternoon, restoring service home by home. Mr. Gonzalez said that if residents were unavailable, crews would return. If customers were still not home, they would leave contact information for appointments.

Andrea Stump, 36, had her gas turned on about 3 p.m. She said she was at work when her husband called and told her that someone had to be home to let the utility crew in to light the pilot lights. She returned home at 10:15 a.m. with a stack of wood.

In the meantime, smoke billowed from her wood-burning chimney.

“It’s been a big help,” she said. “We’ve had it going all day.”

At Selby’s, a family-run grocery store, employees wore gloves and jackets as they worked.

“The majority of residents don’t have any heat, so they’ve been coming here for hot food,” said Mike Selby, the store manager. He said the store couldn’t run ovens because of the lack of gas in the deli so he was using electric ovens in the bakery to prepare food.

“We’re doing what we have to,” Mr. Selby said. “We don’t close.”

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