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Substation fire, outage cut off power to 3,000 homes and businesses in Forest Hill early Wednesday

Car also utility hit pole on East Jarrettsville Road near scene of the fire

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

5:09 PM EDT, July 31, 2013

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Several thousand Baltimore Gas & Electric customers in the Forest Hill area lost power early Wednesday morning after a car struck a utility pole on Jarrettsville Road and a transformer caught fire at nearby BGE substation.

BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said it is not clear yet if the transformer fire was related to the car accident, but both were reported between 12:30 and 1 a.m.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, has identified the driver who crashed into the pole and said he received traffic citations.

After the transformer fire was reported, BGE cut off power to the whole substation, near East Jarrettsville Road and Industry Lane, which caused all 3,000 Forest Hill-area residential and business customers to lose power, Lighty said.

"There was a transformer inside the substation perimeter that caught fire. We are still investigating the cause of the transformer fire," she said. The substation is located adjacent to Forest Hill Industrial Airpark.

The fire posed a challenge to firefighters and also affected power to the Harford County Emergency Operations Center, the Harford County Fire & EMS Association spokesman Rich Gardiner posted on the association's media Facebook page.

Gardiner also wrote there were utility poles and wires damaged "from a hit and run property damage incident less than a half mile away near Wargo's [Restaurant]."

The fire was brought under control once firefighters established the power had been shut off to the station, Gardiner said.

Customers had electricity restored throughout the night and all were restored by 6:30 a.m., Lighty said.

She was not sure how many lost power immediately from the pole being struck.

A Forest Hill man was found allegedly trying to flee the scene after crashing into the pole, Sheriff's Office spokesman Edward Hopkins said Wednesday afternoon.

Dimitrios N. Mathioudakis, 32, of the 2400 block of Dixie Lane, was driving a 2004 Range Rover and told investigators he swerved to avoid hitting a deer when he hit the pole, Hopkins said.

"He was almost home," Hopkins noted, adding: "He was in the process of leaving the scene."

A K-9 unit responding to the incident saw the driver, however, and Mathioudakis was ultimately charged with failing to reduce speed and leaving the scene of an accident, according to Hopkins.

No one was injured in the crash, Hopkins said.

Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Operations, said he did not have any information yet on how the outage may have affected the Emergency Operations Center on Ady Road which handles all 911 calls and police, fire and emergency medical dispatching across the county.

Thomas did say the county's Hazardous Materials Team was requested and did respond to the substation fire.

Lighty said some residents' posts on Twitter about an explosion at the substation were not correct. A video posted on Harford Fire Blog on Facebook showed several wild bolts of electricity coming from the burning transformer.

"It was really just no explosion, nothing outside of the perimeter, except the pole that was struck," she said. "There is a possibility that the pole being struck caused the transformer fire but it's still under investigation."

Hopkins, who is also chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, said it was a "huge 33kv transformer adjacent to Friends Park," which "caught fire and was significantly damaged."

Hopkins said it took firefighters about an hour to bring the fire under control.

Utility crews were seen still working around the damaged substation shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Check back with http://www.exploreharford.com for updates.

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this report.