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Afternoon winds, early evening thunder storm leave downed trees, hundreds without power

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POTSDAM - It started shortly before noon Friday with a transformer fire in Potsdam that left hundreds without power for approximately 90 minutes.

And it marked just beginning of a long day that would stretch into Saturday morning for National Grid crews and firefighters from around St. Lawrence and Franklin counties as they responded to reports of downed trees and trees on power lines throughout the region.

Several roads in the county, including major highways like Route 56 in the Norwood-Norfolk area, were closed for short periods of time Friday afternoon and early evening, when fallen trees blocked roadways. There was also a report that a structure fire in Heuvelton was started by a tree falling on power lines.

The early wind damage started in the northeastern portion of the county, but the calls were county wide by the dinner hour when a band of thunderstorms - accompanied by heavy rain and strong winds - rolled through the region.

Volunteer fire departments from around the eastern portion of St. Lawrence County spent the better part of Friday afternoon responding to trouble calls for downed trees and limbs, including one reported instance of a tree on fire along state Route 420 in the town of Winthrop.

According to scanner reports, Helena, Brasher-Winthrop, Colton, Hopkinton-Fort Jackson, Nicholville, and Lawrenceville firefighters all responded to calls between 3 and 5 p.m. Friday.

Brasher-Winthrop Fire Chief Pat “Pappy” Kowalchuk said his department responded to two calls Friday afternoon, including the call on state Route 420.

“It was just sparks,” he said. “A lot of times when they fall, it will create hotspots, but there was no fire.”

Mr. Kowalchuk, who spoke from his home at about 5:30 p.m. Friday, noted that he didn’t think his night was over yet.

“I just saw the radar,” he said. “There’s a pretty big storm coming. It could get crazy tonight.”

He would prove to be right as skies darkened shortly before 6 p.m. and then the skies opened, complete with a light show. It would mark the beginning of an extremely busy night for the volunteer firefighters, utility workers and highway department crews as they worked to clear the damage.

The Norwood and Parishville firefighters were among the departments responding to multiple calls Friday night, but most departments in the county had some calls. And Mr. Kowalchuk’s suspicions would prove to be accurate at 9 p.m. when his department was toned out to a report of multiple trees down on County Route 38. They would check back in service at 11:23 p.m.

National Grid had reported 7,161 customers in St. Lawrence County and another 2,352 customers were without power at one point Friday evening. The north country would be the first challenges for National Grid crews as the storm that started in Canada moved south through the rest of upstate New York. The utility was reporting it had 716 outages with 63,514 customers without power by 11:15 p.m. Friday, including 9,432 in Onondaga County, 7,161 in Oswego County and 8,402 in Niagara County.

By late Friday night, National Grid’s website said its outages included 201 customers without power in the Stockholm Center area, 237 without power in the Norwood area, 215 without power in the greater Colton area and 277 without power on the Route 56 corridor in Norwood.

National Grid’s map can be found at: https://www1.nationalgridus.com/PowerOutageMap-NY-RES.

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