- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine last evening declared a state of emergency in the state and activated the Virginia National Guard to be available to help battle fires fueled by yesterday’s high winds, notably in Tidewater and the Southwest mountains where hundreds of homes were ordered evacuated.

The declaration allows state agencies to deploy workers, equipment and other emergency response resources, and allows the governor to coordinate state and local response.

The winds also knocked down trees and power lines in the immediate Washington area as a cold front arrived. More than 75,000 customers lost power, according to Potomac Electric Power Co., Baltimore Gas and Electric and Dominion Virginia Power. The numbers diminished into the evening.

At 9 p.m., Pepco had about 17,000 customers without power in Prince George’s County and another 2,600 customers in Montgomery County. Fewer than 1,000 remained without power in the District, although 25,000 customers were affected earlier in the day, Pepco said.

In Northern Virginia, about 10,400 Dominion Virginia Power customers were without electricity last night.

Most of Pepco’s outages were in Prince George’s County concentrated around Oxon Hill and Clinton. In Northern Virginia, Fairfax County was hit hardest.

A wind gust of 66 mph was measured, said Calvin Meadows of the National Weather Service. The agency issued a wind advisory Saturday for several counties and the District that remained in effect until 7 p.m. yesterday, and a high-wind warning was in effect for Loudoun County, Va., and Frederick County, Md.

The most persistent fire locally was burning brush along the 9000 block of Allentown Road, near Andrews Air Force Base. Prince George’s County firefighters were called at about 2 p.m. and worked to control the fire until about 5 p.m.

Fairfax County firefighters battled a brush fire in the 11900 block of Henderson Road.

Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said his crews handled hundreds of calls for downed power lines and trees and small brush fires. The busy Rockville Pike was closed for more than an hour because power lines fell onto the roadway at Old Georgetown Road in Rockville.

In Southwest Virginia and the Tidewater area, wind-driven fires were a bigger problem.

Smoke from brush fires in Roanoke County forced police to close the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 near the Hollins exit, and both lanes of U.S. 460 near Bonsack.

Bedford County issued an evacuation order for the Montvale area after a forest fire grew to more than 400 to 500 acres, county spokesman Bill Hoy said. Since then, winds exceeding 30 mph created so much smoke that gauging the size of the fire became impossible.

A brush fire that broke out between Tidewater Community College’s campus and Interstate 664 forced transportation officials to close the Monitor-Merrimack Memorial Bridge Tunnel for several hours.

Traffic in both directions was allowed to resume for a short time but was rerouted to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel after smoke again covered the roadway, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

Richard Zuercher, a Dominion Virginia Power spokesman, said utility crews were working to restore power yesterday afternoon but more outages were expected throughout the night as the winds kept blowing.

Pepco has said that because the area has the heaviest concentration of trees in the country, strong winter and summer storms are particularly threatening to service.

BGE began “storm operations” at 2:30 p.m., mostly in response to calls about tree limbs on power lines.

The interruptions in power service were the first major outages in the area this year.

It was nearly a year ago that an ice storm on Valentine’s Day caused thousands of outages and paralyzed many parts of the region.

More than 180,000 customers were affected after ice-coated tree limbs snapped and downed power lines as power companies scrambled for several days to get service restored.

Ten days later, gale-force winds knocked down trees weakened by the ice storm and took down lines delivering service to about 60,000 customers.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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