Dalton declares state of emergency as thunderstorm leaves thousands without power


Photo Gallery | Violent thunderstorms pound Central Berkshire

DALTON -- A Dalton neighborhood was ground zero for a violent thunderstorm that ripped through Central and Southern Berkshire County, leaving thousands of homes and businesses without power, and possibly sparking two house fires.

The National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y., reported the storm cell hit the Massachusetts-New York state line in Hancock at about 5 p.m. and 30 minutes later it exited the county heading east, part of a frontal system that swept through from Ohio. The storm left behind numerous downed tees and power lines, the Greenridge section of Dalton the hardest hit area, according to town officials.

"We had six homes -- all minor damage -- from the at least 15 to 20 trees brought down by the storm," said Dalton Fire Chief Jerry Cahalan. "Fortunately, no one was hurt."

"There were a lot of close calls," added Town Manager Ken Walto.

By late Sunday night, Dalton officials had delcared a state of emergency in hopes of qualifying for state disaster relief funds to help pay for the town's portion of the storm cleanup.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency officials were in Dalton on Sunday night to assess the damage, and Cahalan has requested a National Weather Service representative inspect the wind damage in town.

Tree damage and downed power lines were also reported in Otis, Becket, Lanesborough, Hinsdale and Pittsfield, with the debris temporarily blocking several roads in those communities.

Western Massachusetts Electric Co. reported more than 4,200 customers in 10 Berkshire towns and Pittsfield lost electric service during the height of the storm, with about 1,600 still in the dark late Sunday night. A WMECo spokeswoman expected repair crews to work through the overnight, with the majority of the power back on line this morning.

National Grid, the other electric utility serving Berkshire County, was handling scattered power outages in Sheffield and other parts of South County.

The severe weather may have also touched off a house fire each in Otis and Pittsfield.

Otis Fire Chief Sandy Pinkham said it's unconfirmed a lightening strike caused a fire shortly after 7 p.m. at 61 Bliven Road, just west of the Otis Ridge Ski Area along Route 23. With help from the Monterey, Becket and Sandisfield fire departments, Otis firefighters quickly doused the smoke and flames confined to the finished basement of the home, according to Pinkham. No one was hurt as the house was unoccupied when the fire broke out.

"There was heavy fire and smoke damage to the basement," he said. "We believe it started in the basement bedroom."

An investigator from the State Fire Marshal's Office has been called in to probe the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, Pittsfield fire officials suspect a residential fire was storm related. Around 5 p.m., Paul Johnson, who lives with his father at 30 Madison Place, smelled smoke and called 911, according to Deputy Fire Chief Mark Cancilla. Firefighters arrived on the seen to find the smoke and flames confined to the basement, which they doused within 30 minutes. Cancilla's preliminary finding is the wind snapped the electricity service wire to the house, triggering a possible short in the electrical system.

He said no one was hurt and the Johnsons were seeking temporary shelter overnight.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
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To reach Derek Gentile:
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On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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