Fire KO’s phone service, power, 911

Published 8:50 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

WINDSOR—It could be days before some Verizon customers are able to use their landline telephones after a fire damaged the company’s Windsor substation Tuesday morning.

A falling power line is the likely cause of the fire that knocked out telephone service in parts of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Franklin and Suffolk.

According to Chuck Penn, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, an outage was reported just before 7

a.m. A power cable fell and came into contact with a Verizon telephone cable, sparking a fire at the Verizon substation on Church Street in Windsor.

“(The fire) fed through the cable into the wire center and destroyed the wire center, so the entire switching system in there is out,” said Verizon spokeswoman Laura Barnes. She said about 1,600 Verizon customers lost telephone service as a result of the fire. However, service was restored to most customers by Tuesday afternoon, except for sections of Southampton County and southern Isle of Wight.

Barnes said the fire at the substation was “pretty much under control” within an hour.

About 900 local Dominion customers lost power Tuesday morning, but all power was restored within three hours, Penn said.

Verizon officials said Tuesday that they planned to open a phone bank in Windsor for people without service to make calls.

Rusty Chase, Isle of Wight County’s director of emergency services, said the county’s 911 system is “functional,” but residents in the Windsor and Zuni areas, where landline service is down, need to dial 911 from cell phones or visit their local fire, rescue or police station for assistance.

Franklin’s 911 system was down for a time Tuesday morning as well. The Franklin Police Department advised banks in the city to close their lobbies because of the lack of emergency 911 service.

The substation fire also caused problems at local retailers, just days before Christmas. Larry Smith, who manages the Wal-Mart in Franklin, said the store was unable to process financial transactions using credit, debit or gift cards for about 30 minutes Tuesday, but was later able to process credit card transactions. Each one of those transactions had to be monitored and called in, Smith said.

“It’s an inconvenience, but so far everyone has been very understanding,” he said. He said the pharmacy also experienced issues, but he was told that Verizon was working on the issue, and it was expected to be resolved by Tuesday evening.

Windsor resident Ed Hall said he lost electricity and telephone service Tuesday morning, but the electricity came back on after about two hours. Although he has a cell phone, Hall is still concerned about the landline phones being down.

“We’re concerned that no one knows our cell phone number,” he said. “It’s not in any books or anything. Only a select few (know the number).”

Verizon officials hope to have landline service restored within a few days.

“We’re hoping that we’ll have everybody restored by Christmas Eve,” Barnes said. However, that involves bringing in an “emergency response center” to perform the duties normally handled by the damaged substation.

“The wire center will have to be gutted and redone,” she said.

Chase said Tuesday that the fire is under investigation.

“I just hope they get the phone service restored as soon as possible,” Hall said.