WHEELING - Hazards related to this weekend's severe summer storms continue to threaten area residents even when the sky is calm.
About 6:30 p.m. Monday, a home at 56025 Pine Knob Road, located off Belmont County Road 214 west of Bellaire, caught fire. The blaze resulted from the use of a portable generator while the residents waited for electricity to be restored.
Even as firefighters extinguished the flames, a crew with E-J Electric worked just yards away, replacing a power pole that snapped in the high winds that accompanied the storm Friday.
Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough
A man looks at the damage caused by a portable generator fire at 56025 Pine Knob Road, located off Belmont County Road 214 west of Bellaire, Monday evening. The home was without electricity in the wake of this weekend’s storms.
Neffs Fire Department Lt. Kenny Brooks said the fire was accidental with no injuries and limited damage, mostly to the exterior of the home. He advised those who must use generators during the power outage that could continue for several days to make sure the devices are properly ventilated, especially if they are located in direct sunlight.
Many people are resorting to using generators in an attempt to cool their homes, as temperatures throughout the week are expected to climb into the 90s. American Electric Power asks that customers using generators call 800-672-2231 so repair crews will be aware of the generators as they work to restore power.
AEP estimated 384,000 of its customers across Ohio were still waiting for electrical service to be restored at 8 p.m. Monday. In West Virginia, AEP had about 256,700 customers without power Monday, while Mon Power's outage map showed nearly 179,000 remained out of service.
AEP said service won't be restored to some customers until late Sunday. Ohio utility regulators said they would take a look at AEP's performance once residents' power was restored.
Only one death in West Virginia has been linked to either the storms or the heat so far, said Terrance Lively, a spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. A person riding an all-terrain vehicle in the dark in Pleasants County struck a fallen tree about 1 a.m. Sunday. State Police identified the victim as Edward F. Riffle Jr.
Ohio officials also confirmed one storm death. A 70-year-old woman died Friday evening in Muskingum County when a barn collapsed after she had gone to check on animals during the storm.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was scheduled to appear in Wheeling on Monday to gather public comment regarding the state's new law prohibiting texting while driving. But his press conference was canceled as he continued to deal with issues related to recent storms across the state.
Tomblin declared a state of emergency for all of West Virginia on Saturday night after storms left an estimated 500,000 people without power. Power outages were reported in at least 27 of West Virginia's 55 counties, according to information provided by Tomblin's office. Tomblin met privately with emergency officials in the Northern Panhandle on Sunday, and he said the area "seems to be in good shape."
"Electric is coming on quickly - they're not encountering as many problems there as they are elsewhere in the state," Tomblin said, noting crews appear to be doing all they can to restore power for those affected. "Our top priorities have to be hospitals and nursing homes. And we have to keep the water treatment plants up and running. ... We have never experienced an event like this in West Virginia."
Tomblin said employees of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and members of the West Virginia National Guard will be going into areas most affected by the storms to check on residents.
Monday morning in Marshall County, Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Mike Mucheck said the number of homes and businesses without power in the county was decreasing "by the hour," with 2,100 in the county without power just before 10 a.m.
However, three transformers caught fire at 11:30 a.m., increasing that number to 4,800. Transformers on Third Street caught fire, and officials said untrimmed trees near the power lines were suspected in causing the fires. Moundsville police responded, and workers with the city's street department worked to ensure traffic was under control.
Cooling stations throughout the county were on standby Monday morning after only two people took advantage on Saturday and nobody showed up Sunday. Mucheck said with minimal staffing and volunteers, they were unable to keep the stations open.
However, following the additional outages Monday that affected various areas in Moundsville, a cooling station was opened at the Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department. The department also made water and ice available to those who needed it. Mucheck added if anyone needs drinking water, they can contact the EMA office and arrangements will be made to get drinking water to those individuals.
As of Monday evening, 3,500 residents in Ohio and Marshall counties were still without power. According to AEP spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller, 90 percent of those residents are expected to have power restored by midnight Friday.
And while the Marshall EMA office was busy Monday, the doors to the county's courtrooms were closed after an order was issued Sunday by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The order closed all courts throughout the state Monday because of the weather emergency.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich also declared a state emergency during the weekend, called out the National Guard and sought help from President Barack Obama, who declared a federal emergency in both Ohio and West Virginia. Federal aid trucks carrying water were sent to six distribution points in southern and eastern Ohio.
Some local customers of FirstEnergy who remain without power can receive one bag of ice and two gallons of water at no charge from participating stores as storm-restoration efforts continue. Participating stores and locations include Kroger at 211 N. Marshall St., Benwood, and Kroger at 100 St. Thomas Drive, Weirton.
Staff Writers J.W. Johnson Jr., Joselyn King and Jennifer Compston-Strough contributed to this report.