Irene, dear Irene. I thought you were going to let me off easy, I really did. But no, you had other plans for me, didn’t you?
On Sunday afternoon after the storm I went outside to start taking pictures of storm damage when I smelled wood burning. “Someone must be using their fireplace,” I thought. Then I saw smoke wafting through the air. I looked up, and there it was: the top of the telephone pole in front of where I live was smoldering. “What on earth?” I wondered. As I looked, sure enough I began to see tiny flames burning the wood.
I ran back inside, and sure enough, the lights were off. Just seconds ago they were all on, and it was a “normal” day. Now it was becoming a drama. I called the fire department and then I went back outside to look at the telephone pole, which was starting to get more flames inside of it. As I stood there watching I also kept a wary eye on the trees, which were being blown this way and that in the high winds, hoping no branches would come crashing down around or on me. After awhile a fireman came and said there was nothing he could do about it. “Spraying the fire with water would be dangerous for us, since it is an electrical fire and the current would simply come down the water to us,” he said. “It will just have to burn out. If the wires come down, call us back.” I wasn’t too comfortable with that suggestion, but what else could I do? You can see there are a lot of lines attached to this pole:
The fireman put up cones to block off the street, and left. I called the power company just to be sure they knew what was going on. Just after I called them I noticed a tree had fallen across the power lines several feet away and was pulling them down almost to the ground. It appeared that this had stressed the lines and caused the fire. “O joy,” I thought. “It could be a day or two before the power comes back on at this rate. Good thing I didn’t go out to the supermarket and stock up on food. It could be worse, all this could have happened at night during the storm.”
"The fire in that picture doesn't look like a big deal," you say. But think about it: how would you like to have a burning telephone pole in front of where you live, no matter what size the flames are? Of course, with the hurricane winds whipping around, the fire on the telephone pole in creased in intensity. It soon became apparent that the lines were probably going to come down. Glowing embers began to float down into the grass, which thankfully smoldered but did not catch on fire as a result. The top of the pole began to crack and lean precariously to one side. “Surely the wires are coming down,” I thought. “I hope they don’t because that means I will be stuck here until they fix them.” Cars continued to drive up and down the street underneath the wires, some unaware of the danger overhead, others gawking at the fire. Thankfully the fire didn’t engulf the entire pole; just the top, which was now at the breaking point. I decided it was pointless to stand outside and stare at the pole, so I went back inside. Periodically I would go back outside to check, until finally I noticed that the fire was out and it was just smoldering at the top again. I decided to go out for dinner and think about it the next day. I had a place to stay if I needed to, and worrying about it wasn’t going to make the power lines get fixed any faster.
As I left for dinner, I noticed just how precariously the wires were hanging from the top of the pole. One false move, it seemed, and the whole bunch of them would come crashing down. Naturally, the diner was packed with storm-weary folk who were without power in their homes. Afterwards I returned home. During the night I slept with the window open and could hear chainsaws buzzing around , but they were further away. “I didn’t think they’d be out working this late,” I thought to myself as I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. “Hope they come up this way and work on this problem too.” The next morning both the fire and the lights were still out, and the wires had not fallen. But look how close to falling down these wires are. The top of the pole appears to be hanging on by splinters:
Yay! I wasn’t there when it happened, but a new section of pole was added to the top in place of the burned out one. On Monday through Wednesday I spent the nights over a friend’s house and salvaged as much food as I could from the fridge and freezer. And after chatting with the next door neighbors, I discovered that further down the street a large tree had fallen down across the over the lines and set the nearest telephone pole ablaze much more dramatically than my little pole-top burn. It usually isn’t until things like this happen that you really slow down enough to appreciate the modern marvels of electricity, clean running water, refrigeration, and having friends you can call on when you need them. Fortunately there was only a small puddle of water in the basement that slowly dried up once the power came back on. It could have been a lot worse for me, as it has been for so many others in NJ who may very well still be without power and flooded out. Here are two other photos I took after the storm: