Scott Sherman of Cowbell Road in Willow Grove was on his computer reading the New York Times at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 19. Suddenly, the screen went dim.
The electricity had shut off.
His next-door neighbor knocked on the door. From Columbia, she couldn’t speak English, but was accompanied by her teenage grandson, Jorge, who told Sherman there was a fire in a tree behind their house.
When he stepped outside, Sherman could smell the smoke. He followed Jorge and his grandmother in the howling wind and temperatures hovering around the freezing point.
They looked at the still-burning tree and a wire that had blown down because of high winds. The family had called the fire department. Sherman would call PECO.
They knew enough to keep their distance from the high-voltage wire. They hoped the fire wouldn’t spread to the houses on Cowbell, which were about 40 feet away, said Sherman.
So strong were the winds that a total of 13,000 outages were reported in Montgomery County, according to Martha Phan, spokesperson for PECO.
Cowbell Road residents were treated to a parade of huge vehicles that lined the street only minutes after the outage was reported. Responders to the fire included the Upper Moreland Fire Department, Upper Moreland Police Department, PECO and Asplundh Tree Expert Co.
The fire burned itself out just before the fire company arrived, said Sherman.
The real culprit, though, was the vine-infested tree that had fallen on the power lines. Asplundh, headquartered on Blair Mill Road in Willow Grove, arrived to take down the tree.
It would take nearly three hours.
“We weren’t affected at all,” said Bill Adams of Cowbell Road.
He and his family were busy “going in and out all day.” He did, however, hear Asplundh’s chainsaw when he was out back cleaning up the backyard. Thousands of twigs and fallen branches littered the neighborhood.
“The wind blows behind the house from the northwest,” noted Adams. “I’m always afraid one of the trees will blow down.”
Adams is referring to a small woodsy area behind a dozen houses on Cowbell, which serves as a buffer zone from businesses on Davisville Road.
He noted that about a week before the storm, Asplundh was trimming trees in the same little woods where the vine-infested tree fell. At that time, over a foot of snow made the tree cutters’ progress difficult.
Scott Sherman returned home after filing his income taxes.
“I knew the electricity was back on," he said, "because I saw the curtains blowing from the heater which had gone back on. My kitchen clock had also lit up again.”
It was 3:02 p.m., and all was well on Cowbell Road.