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A small town’s sudden power surge fried tech gear in hundreds of homes

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Residents in the small Pennsylvania town of Brookville must’ve wondered what on earth was going on earlier this month when a sudden power surge caused electrical appliances and gizmos in up to 1,000 homes to fry, explode, or simply conk out.

What may have momentarily seemed like some kind of weird supernatural happening was actually an electrical surge caused by a failed power line component, according to a report by The Associated Press. Local media said that “damage ranged from residents losing a refrigerator to losing all appliances in the kitchen or losing everything in the house.”

Up to a quarter of the town’s 4,000 residents were thought to have been affected by the incident, with many reporting fried computers, burned electrical meters, and damaged power strips. Some even spoke of fluorescent lights suddenly exploding.

When the surge occurred, the high volume of calls flooding into the emergency services forced the local fire department to call for extra help from three nearby facilities.

As for the local cops, the incident tripped its main office radio, causing them to miss the first emergency calls. The first they knew something was up was when they heard the fire trucks roaring through the town.

“We were fortunate that nobody was hurt,” Tracy Zents, the director of Jefferson County’s Department of Emergency Services, told AP.

Power for part of Brookville was lost at around lunchtime but was fully restored by late afternoon.

Scott Surgeoner, a spokesperson for energy provider FirstEnergy, said the cause of the outage wasn’t entirely clear, but mentioned that insulator failures — like the one suspected in this case — can occur after years of being exposed to harsh weather.

“It’s similar to an alternator in a car,” he told AP.  “Why does it fail after a few years? Mine might last for 10 years, but yours might last for five. … Any equipment that is on a pole in the air and is subjected to weather 365 days a year, 24 hours a day is susceptible to failure.”

Surgeoner pointed out that affected residents can file claims to their local provider and also use their homeowner’s insurance to cover any damage.

Worried about a power surge hitting your home? Check out DT’s recent piece on the best surge protectors.

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