Wire downed in storm

By Kelly Finlan
September 25, 2003

Toccara Buckley

Click here to see video footage of the electrical fire caused by fallen power lines.

An electric buzz and the pungent aroma of burning rubber and asphalt filled the air Thursday night, Sept. 18, after a falling tree, brought down by the winds of hurricane Isabel, took out a wire carrying 13,200 volts of electricity on Eagle Road.

“I saw it arcing all the way from Wawa,” Marc Neff, a Peco Energy Co. employee, said. Neff sat in his Peco Energy truck by the Cabrini entrance on Eagle Road, a safe distance from the fallen wire, while he waited for a road crew to turn off the power source that feeds to the area.

“We walked outside and saw the sky was bright purple,” Gio Pena, a junior elementary education major and resident assistant, said.

A conventional power line that feeds a house carries about 115 volts. The line that fell, according to Vincent Difilippo, the chief of the Radnor volunteer fire department, “originated in a substation on Poplar Road,” and it feeds areas all along King of Prussia Road, including Cabrini and Eastern University.

Students stood in confusion and disbelief in the residential parking lot as the woods lit up in a brilliant blaze of energy and untamed electricity.

“I got there first because I was just curious; I wanted to see what the fire was like,” Michelle Murray, a graphic design and studio art major and RA, said. “Then people started going into the woods. The RA in me kicked in and I started telling people to get out of the woods.”

“We had a problem with students coming down the hill. They got a little too close. Electricity can travel 20 to 30 feet in the ground. They were in danger,” Difilippo said.

The Radnor fire department showed up shortly thereafter. Two trucks and 13 men were dispatched. Public Safety and Radnor police arrived shortly thereafter.

“We barricaded the road and directed people up toward the houses,” Murray said.

Students had differing opinions on Public Safety’s control throughout the situation.

“Public Safety had too slow of a response,” Andy Kulp, a sophomore history and secondary education major, said.

Kulpt called after he heard a boom from the direction of the power line. Twenty minutes later the fire department arrived on campus. Residents were already in the woods, he said.

“I think they handled it very well. They took care of it,” Jackie McGuckin, a junior special and elementary education major, said.

There were more Public Safety officers on duty than usual for Thursday, according to Charlie Schaffner, the director of Public Safety.

The bright lights and Radnor Township personnel spawned a variety of stories and responses.

“I heard that it was a car accident. I heard Eastern caught on fire. But I didn’t actually hear what happened,” Jen Taggert, a sophomore, said.

“We actually slept through a good part of it,” Kim Reagoso, a junior elementary and special education major, said of her and her roommate.

Scattered power outages followed the commotion of the fallen wire. The initial outages began at 8:53 p.m., according to Schaffner.

“The biggest part we had was deciphering what was going on,” Howard Holden, the director of facilities, said. He went on to say that the sporadic power outages could be attributed to the three-phase system off of which Cabrini works.

“When one phase drops out and the other two stay on, that’s when you get that goofy electrical mix up [like] when some buildings are on and some rooms aren’t,” Holden said.

Partial power was restored at 2:25 a.m.

Posted to the Web by Toccara Buckley. Video shot by Ryan Norris. Digital assistance by P. Matthew Cornely.

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Kelly Finlan

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