The 911 calls started pouring in just after noon in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Brookville. The electrical meter is on fire. The house siding is burning. My power strip is smoking. The computer is fried. The carpeting is singed. Our light bulb exploded. A power company says a failed power line component was to blame for an electrical surge Jan. 20 in Brookville, population 4,000, the AP reports. When it was over, 500 to 1,000 residents were affected, said Tracy Zents, director of Jefferson County's Department of Emergency Services. "I've been doing this a little over 30 years, and this is definitely a first for me," Zents said. "We were fortunate that nobody was hurt." The volume of calls quickly overwhelmed the local volunteer fire department, which had to call three other departments for help, Zents said.
Even the police department wasn't spared. The surge tripped the department's main office radio, so the initial emergency calls were missed, said Chief Jason Brown. "Then all of a sudden I hear fire engines, so I turned on my handheld," Brown said. He quickly learned what happened, as fluorescent lights in the building next door started exploding in their sockets. He said he doesn't know anyone on the east side of town who wasn't affected. "You go down the street and you see all these blackened meters," he said. Scott Surgeoner, a rep for FirstEnergy, said the problem started with a failed insulator on a power line. That caused a flash that spread to a feeder line to Brookville, and about 475 customers lost power. It was restored by 5pm, he said. The cause isn't clear, but Surgeoner said it's not uncommon for insulators to fail after years of weather exposure. "It's similar to an alternator in a car. Why does it fail after a few years? Mine might last for 10 years, but yours might last for five." (Read more electricity stories.)