A line of wild and dangerous thunderstorms roared across Maine Wednesday night into Thursday, leaving in its wake toppled trees, closed schools, blocked roads, and thousands of people without electrical service. It sent a Peaks Island man to the hospital, and had folks in Aroostook County wondering if a tornado had touched down.
Central Maine Power Company spokeswoman Gail Rice reported Thursday night that more than 23,000 customers lost power during the storms.
Rice said about 3,000 customers were still without power late Thursday evening, adding that some homes and businesses might not get electrical service back until Friday.
High winds caused most of the damage to utility lines on Wednesday, while Thursday’s outages were mostly caused by lightning strikes on utility equipment, Rice said.
The National Weather Service in Gray said more than 1,000 lightning strikes an hour — an unusually high number — were being recorded across Maine Wednesday night. Those intense lightning storms did not subside Thursday.
Nicole Clegg, the city of Portland’s spokeswoman, issued a press release describing the storms that hit the city late Thursday afternoon as “dangerous lightning storms.”
Clegg said a man who lives on Peaks Island was touching or standing near a refrigerator when a bolt of lightning struck near his home Thursday afternoon. The city dispatched its fireboat, which transported the man to a mainland hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Clegg said firefighters believe the man, who lives on Island Avenue, may have been shocked by the lightning strike.
Al Bleau, a Peaks Island resident who serves as team leader for the island’s Community Emergency Response Team, identified the man as Keith Ivers. Ivers owns Peaks Island Fuel.
Fire broke out at homes in Windham and Berwick after they were struck by lightning Thursday afternoon.
Berwick Fire Chief Dennis Plante said Maryellen Wright, who was standing inside her home, heard a boom and turned to see that the sofa in her living room was on fire.
Wright, who lives at 98 Cemetery Road in Berwick, tried unsuccessfully to douse the fire with an extinguisher before fleeing to safety. Her home was destroyed.
In Windham, a home at 150 Nash Road sustained smoke and fire damage after a lightning strike traveled through the ground and energized copper piping in the basement. The overheated piping ignited some combustible materials in the basement, according to Deputy Fire Chief John Wescott. No one was home at the time.
In Islesboro, Fred Porter, the town’s public safety director, said all of the homes on the island lost power after a thunderstorm swept over Penobscot Bay Wednesday night.
“We were having a pretty good light show,” Porter said, describing the lightning that preceded a fierce rain-and-wind storm. “Then, all of a sudden the wind came up. It lasted maybe three minutes.”
The storm uprooted trees and blew them over. “There were trees down everywhere,” Porter said. “The whole south end of the island was completely devastated.”
Roads were blocked for hours and power wasn’t restored until Thursday, but Porter said no one was injured.
Knox County emergency officials reported that one person was injured Wednesday night after high winds caused a tree to fall on a recreational vehicle camper at the Sennebec Lake Campground in Appleton. Details concerning the person’s injuries were not available.
School officials in the Five Town Community School District, which includes Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport, canceled classes Thursday because of widespread power outages. The cancellation also affected the Camden Hills Regional High School.
Maureen Hastings, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said the weather service will fly over the Aroostook County town of Oxbow on Friday morning to assess the damage caused by what some observers described as a tornado that touched down Wednesday night.
Police and forest rangers spent more than three hours clearing debris along a 3-mile stretch of Route 11 in Oxbow.
“We haven’t been able to confirm that it was a tornado, just a lot of damage caused by high winds,” Hastings said.
Mike Cempa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Mainers can look forward to a pleasant weekend after experiencing uncharacteristically hot weather for this time of year.
Portland nearly set a record high temperature Wednesday, reaching a high of 93 degrees — two degrees lower than the 1983 record.
Cempa said the unsettled weather pattern, which was fueled by an intense block of hot and humid air that moved in from the Great Lakes region, should become more fall-like on Saturday and Sunday.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: