Worker hits power line, causes outage in Pittsfield


PITTSFIELD -- High winds buffeted the Berkshires on the first official day of winter on Friday morning, and knocked down some trees and wires. But the wind did not cause a significant power outage that affected part of downtown Pittsfield.

According to the Western Massachusetts Electric Co., a worker digging a hole for a post on Church Street around 11 a.m. struck a high voltage power line that caused 350 WMECo customers in Pittsfield to lose power, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel and The Berkshire Eagle. Power was restored at around 12:10 p.m., WMECo said.

According to WMECo, Berkshire Medical Center also lost power, but BMC spokesman Michael Leary said that report was inaccurate.

"We had a little flicker for a second, but it did not trip anything," Leary said.

Berkshire Health Systems, BMC's parent company, does maintain offices in the Clock Tower Business Park on South Church Street, which also houses The Eagle and several other businesses.

The identity of the person who dug the hole that caused the power outage could not be determined on Friday, but he was not a WMECo utility worker. But WMECo spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said he faces a fine for violating the state's Dig Safe Law, which requires a permit to engage in that kind of activity. First-time violators of the Dig Safe Law are fined $500; fines for subsequent offenses range from $1,000 to $5,000.

After the line was struck, Ress said a manhole cover flew into the air, while flames were seen around the site.

"He nicked it and it tripped," Ress said. "He's kind of lucky he's not toast."

WMECo also reported power outages in Lanesborough and Hinsdale on Friday morning, but Ress said the utility did not know how they had occurred.

The National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., had a high wind warning for Berkshire County on Friday until 1 p.m. A wind gust of 45 mph was reported in North Adams at 9:19 a.m., while a 35 mph gust occurred in Pittsfield at 10:15, said meteorologist Tom Wasula.

Law enforcement authorities reported either trees or wires down in Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lenox, North Adams, Pittsfield, Sheffield, West Stockbridge, and Windsor.

The high winds are connected to a major winter storm that has swept across the country. They affected the Berkshires when a strong area of low pressure developed over northern New Jersey and Long Island, Wasula said.

The storm system is expected to linger over the Berkshires through Sunday as it makes its way slowly across southern Quebec on its way to the Canadian Maritimes. Snow showers were expected to break out over the Berkshires on Friday night and accumulation was possible at elevations over 1,500 feet.

A white Christmas is also possible for the Berkshires.

"I wouldn't rule that out," Wasula said. "There's another storm system that may produce some light snow in the Berkshires and the Capital Region from Monday night to Tuesday. It's possible there will be snow on the ground and possibly on Christmas Day."


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