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Fierce Storm Pounds Potomac

Lighting sets fire to roof, causing $500,000 in damage.

The powerful evening thunderstorm that passed over Potomac June 29 left a path of destruction in its wake.

Lightning struck the roof of a house on the 9200 block of Fall River Drive near the Potomac Community Center, setting fire to the house. The homeowner and his wife heard smoke alarms and escaped the house uninjured, but it took more than 60 Montgomery County firefighters to put out the blaze, which caused more than $500,000 in damage.

Units from Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department, Rockville Fire and Rescue and Bethesda Chevy Chase Fire and Rescue responded to the house. The call came out as a task force, a fire and rescue designation between one and two alarms. A neighbor on Fall River Drive placed a separate 911 call, apparently thinking that he had been hit too or that the fire had spread, but his house was checked and was not damaged.

EUGENE ROESSER, spokesman for Cabin John Park has been a rescuer in Montgomery County for more than 20 years. He called Wednesday’s storm “one of the hardest storms I’ve seen.”

“That storm hit Potomac harder than any other place in the county,” he said. “The lightning through Potomac was very severe. You could just see that sky, black as hell.”

The storm downed several trees, including a large tree which completely blocked MacArthur Boulevard just north of Old Anglers Inn. Police set up flares there and cars traveling in both directions were forced to detour through River Falls while police awaited a county crew to remove the tree.

A State Highway Administration team responds to fallen trees on state roads like River and Falls Roads, while clearing blockages on other roads — like MacArthur — falls to the County Department of Public Works and Transportation.

In C&O Canal National Historical Park, Pepco responded to a downed power line. Fire and rescue units usually arrive at live wire sites first, but can do little except secure the area to keep residents away. They stand ready to put out any brush or tree fires the wires might cause, though that can be risky if the wire is enmeshed in the blaze, since water conducts electricity.

The storm caused power outages in Potomac and throughout the area, though most residents’ power was restored that night.

BOB DOBKIN, a Pepco spokesman, said that the storm took out 24 feeders, the main lines that run from power substations to groups of homes, knocking out power for 12,000 customers at the storm's peak. By 9 p.m. that number had been reduced to 6,500, and at 8 a.m. Thursday only 400 Montgomery County residents were without power.

“It caused some damage,” said Dobkin, adding that Potomac was one of the worst hit areas. “The primary cause was lightning strikes.”

Roesser had a timely comparison for the black skies lit up by frequent lightning strikes: “It was almost like the Fourth of July watching all this.”