CLIFTON — More than 25,000 homes and businesses were left without power Monday morning when a logging truck swung dangerously close to the single power line connecting Ellsworth to the Down East coast.
The outage cut off electricity from Ellsworth to Machias, and on Mount Desert Island — an area representing a quarter of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.’s coverage area, according to spokesman Bill Cohen.
The driver of the truck was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor with what police described as minor electrical burns.
However, 33-year-old Carl Wade Philbrick of Greenbush remained in the emergency room Monday evening. An EMMC supervisor said family members requested that information on his condition not be released.
At the time of the accident, Philbrick was driving a slasher, a vehicle used for processing wood, on the logging road near Route 180 and Springy Pond Road. Shortly before 9 a.m., the driver was jolted with electric current as the truck’s raised boom passed the high-tension wire of a major power line.
It was unclear to investigators Monday whether the truck actually hit the line or if the current simply jumped.
Philbrick told police he leaped from the driver’s side of the truck into a snowbank when the vehicle’s tires blew off. Suffering from electric shock, he managed to crawl to safety.
“Even 50 feet away, he could feel the electricity,” said state Trooper Dave Wyankowski. “He looked back and said it looked like lightning going through the crane.”
Six Eddington firefighters doused a small blaze that started in the truck’s tires. Philbrick, who was wearing steel-tipped boots, suffered minor burns to his feet. His hands and face were black with smoke, Wyankowski said.
The power system shut down as soon as the accident occurred. Bangor Hydro officials were able to restore electricity an hour later.
But for scores of Down East businesses and centers of government, it was a crucial hour — the start of the workweek after a long holiday weekend.
The clock on the landmark First Congregational Church overlooking Ellsworth stopped at 9:15 a.m. The U.S. post office reverted to weighing packages by hand, and, in the absence of traffic lights, drivers waved each other through Ellsworth’s intersections. At Main Street’s Riverside Cafe, coffee had to be brewed on the stove.
The lights went out in Machias as both Washington County Superior Court and Machias District Court were set to begin. With no electricity to power recording machines, lawyers and their clients huddled in darkened hallways. Justice Donald Alexander conducted a scheduling conference in his chambers and recessed court until power was restored.
Left without the use of computers, cash registers and fuel pumps, area stores posted signs reading “Closed Due to Power Outage.” At Gay’s Shop ‘n Save in Machias, a generator kicked in to power some machines, while in the produce department, employees stocked bins by flashlight.
Monday’s accident occurred in an area where logs lined both sides of the road. Philbrick told police he had worked there many times.
He was working for the Randall Madden Trucking Co. of Greenbush. Officials disagree about whether Philbrick was allowed to be working there.
“They have been logging in the area for a while,” said Trooper Wyankowski. “They were cutting there legally.”
Not so, said Cohen, the Bangor Hydro spokeman.
On both sides of the power lines along the logging road are clearings designated as Bangor Hydro “right of way” sites. No logging is allowed in these areas.
“I can’t dispute what a trooper said, but it was reported to us that the truck was under one of our 115,000-volt lines,” Cohen said. “And nobody has permission to be logging there, period.”
Cohen said Bangor Hydro patrols the Clifton logging road twice a year. On the last occasion, in December, there was no visible logging activity.
Logging near power lines results in roughly one outage a year, according to Cohen, but this was the second time in recent memory that a logging-related accident caused such a widespread loss of electricity.
“I don’t know how to oversimplify this,” he said. “We spend a lot of money trying to tell people that our right of ways aren’t places to fool around. In this case, not to mention the danger to the driver, power was taken away from 25,000 to 30,000 homes and businesses.”
NEWS reporters Mary Anne Clancy and Catherine Heins contributed to this report.