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Crews battle fallen trees, scattered power outages around region

Winds prompt 'mayday' calls

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

A spring storm blew into the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday. The winds that brought it, combined with the peninsula's ailing trees, made a busy day for linemen and chain saw operators.

By midafternoon, winds in the central peninsula were gusting to 35 miles per hour.

Homer Electric Association had fielded about 300 calls about power outages by 3 p.m.

"The majority of these outages are tree related. I guess that's not a surprise," said HEA spokesperson Sandra Ghormley.

She warned consumers to protect sensitive electronic equipment during windy weather. The peninsula is particularly prone to outages because of so many trees killed or weakened by the spruce bark beetle infestation or deprived of windbreaks by related logging.

The electric utility had crews on high alert around the peninsula all day Tuesday.

The largest outage affected about 250 households in the Scout Lake Loop area for about 70 minutes. Power was restored to that Sterling neighborhood around 2:15 p.m., Ghormley said.

By late afternoon, the activity had died down on the southern peninsula. Crews remained on duty clearing fallen trees near Voznesenka, east of Homer, and Oilwell Road, east of Ninilchik.

But around the central peninsula, five teams were still battling scattered outages, and the central office was still fielding new calls about outages along the corridor from Sterling to Kasilof at 3:30 p.m.

Central Emergency Services responded to calls about falling trees igniting on power lines.

Around noon one tree fell on a garage roof near the intersection of Kobuk and Knight Drive on the boundary between Ridgeway and Soldotna. CES Chief Len Malmquist estimated that it did $5,000 to $6,000 in damage to the structure.

"If the wind keeps blowing like this, we'll have more," he said. "I think the last time the wind got blowing like this we had 14 calls."

Out north, the Nikiski Fire Department discovered a new trick in the wind.

Crews were dispatched twice to slash piles that had been burned during the winter but reignited when the high winds fanned hidden embers.

One of the piles involved had supposedly been extinguished almost four weeks ago.

Battalion Chief David Robertson said anyone who has been burning, even if it was weeks ago, should examine the ashes when the wind kicks up.

"Please double check," he said.

Kenai seemed to get off more easily. The Kenai Fire Department reported no wind-related calls. Kenai Municipal Airport reported no disruption and even a bit of a benefit as the south wind hurried planes to Anchorage ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued wind advisories for Turnagain Arm, the Portage Pass area and the Hillside portion of Anchorage at midday Tuesday.

Elliot Frazier, a hydro-meteorology technician at the weather service office in Anchorage, explained that the winds resulted from the interactions of several low pressure systems in the Interior and the Gulf of Alaska with each other and a high-pressure system coming over from Russia and the Bering Sea.

"Consequently the isobars are tightening up and we're getting some wind," he said. "But it's complex."

Frazier said the highest winds in the region Tuesday were about 40 to 45 mile-per-hour gusts. He predicted the winds would subside after midnight, giving way to rain today.



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