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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 02/19/2011

Wind fans fires, causes travel chaos

By Washington Post Editors

[This post has been updated: 5:50 p.m.]

Dangerous winds spread brush fires and caused travel delays around the Washington region Saturday.

A high wind warning in effect for much of the area only hinted at the chaos. The Post's Capital Weather Gang detailed the story, with gusts topping 50 mph at Nationals Park. The National Christmas Tree, a Colorado blue spruce, was even felled by the gusts, toppling after standing proud on the Ellipse for decades.

Officials shut down Interstate 95 in both directions near MD 198 to deal with fire fanned by the winds. Prince George's called in off-duty firefighters to help as giant piles of mulch burned at a plant in Laurel. Local roads and state highways in the city were clogged with drivers seeking alternate routes. Several roads were also closed in Germantown in Montgomery County as brush fires burned. Congestion was reported almost everywhere, as the roads resembled the worst of a weekday commute instead of a holiday weekend.

There were alerts in place for travel across some of the region's overpasses, such as the Key Bridge in Baltimore and the Bay Bridge. High-profile vehicles were especially vulnerable to the ferocious winds.

In Northern Virginia traffic on I-95 was backed up for miles as pieces of ash drifted from the sky near Potomac Mills. Drivers who turned to Route 1 or Prince William Parkway found delays, too. Brush fires were also reported in Fairfax County at Fair Ridge Drive and Lee Jackson Memorial Highway. Smoke was obscuring visibility on I-95 near Dale City and only the HOV lane was open northbound.

Skyline Drive was cleared of traffic and closed from Route 211 to Front Royal as fire jumped from the western to the eastern side of Shenandoah National Park. Firefighters were attempting to contain the blaze and called for additional crews to assist.

Traffic at several airports was also experiencing delays of about an hour due to the wind. Those airports included Dulles, Newark Liberty and JFK.

Check flight delays here.

Here are some resources for reporting outages, downed trees and debris in roadways.

Utilities
-- BGE outages: 877-778-2222; downed wires: 800-685-0123; outage map
-- Dominion outages and downed wires: 866-366-4357; outage map
-- Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative outages and downed wires: 703-335-0500; outage reports
-- Pepco outages: 877-737-2662; downed wires: 202-872-343; outage map
-- Washington Gas: 800-752-7520

Downed trees and debris in roads
Anne Arundel County: After hours, 410-222-6120; northern district, 410-222-6120; central district, 410-222-7940; southern district; 410-222-7940; Annapolis; 410-263-7870.
Arlington County:703-228-6527; after hours, 703-558-2222.
Calvert County: 410-535-1600.
Charles County: 301-932-3450 or 301-870-2778.
The District: 311; clogged storm drains, 202-612-3400.
Fairfax County: 703-324-5033 (Public Works); 571-350-1000 (Emergency Management); 703-383-VDOT.
Howard County: 410-313-3440.
Loudoun County:703-777-0333 (Emergency Management); 703-383-VDOT.
Maryland state: 800-543-2515.
Montgomery County: 240-777-6000.
National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/state/dc/
Prince George's County: 301-499-8520; after hours, 301-499-8600.
Prince William County: 703-792-7070 or 703-383-VDOT.
Virginia State: 703-383-VDOT.

Road conditions
Live traffic map | Maryland | Virginia

Share conditions by posting a comment below.

By Washington Post Editors  | February 19, 2011; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  District, Driving, Maryland, Metro, Virginia  
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Comments

Why is it these things only happen in Maryland?

Posted by: SSTK34 | February 19, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Maryland like to put its utilities in 'on the cheap'..especially near the cities. here it calls for development Maryland will have overhead lines for Power, cable and Fiber where Virginia will have all these utilities underground Then years later when trees fall during weather conditions they fall onto the "initially cheap" way of doing things that will cost more in the long run because of added labor costs down the road to correct the problems of doing it the cheap way...

When are you going to Learn?

Posted by: digtldesk | February 19, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse

I have lived in Howard County the past 10 years, only 1 time I can recall there being a wether related power outage. Thanks to the city planners and engineers who decided top put the power lines under ground.

Posted by: terpfan4141 | February 19, 2011 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Don't be so sure about overhead versus underground lines. Underground lines suffer from immersion in water, burrowing creatures and backhoe fade. Since they're underground, they can't be inspected or preemptively replaced. And when they break it takes much longer and is much more expensive to fix them.

Maintainable underground lines require conduit or tunnel systems. That doesn't happen in Virginia either.

Posted by: Bill64738 | February 19, 2011 9:49 PM | Report abuse

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