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Woodlawn residents blame Progress Energy for damaging incidents

Woodlawn neighbors Evan Jones, left, and Lynn Woolums say troubles began with the power pole to the left. Jones said his losses total $2,000. Woolums tallies his losses at about $3,000.

SCOTT KEELER | Times\uFEFF

Woodlawn neighbors Evan Jones, left, and Lynn Woolums say troubles began with the power pole to the left. Jones said his losses total $2,000. Woolums tallies his losses at about $3,000.

Bama Finocchi's daughters were watching Saturday-morning cartoons when they started yelling that the television was exploding. Lynn Woolums was preparing to go to work when things started popping. At Evan Jones' house the lights began to flicker, and some went out.

For each of the Woodlawn neighbors, it was the beginning of an eventful morning that would bring out three fire engines, one ladder truck, one command vehicle, one squad truck and one rescue truck, along with television cable and electric company crews.

In the end, the neighbors said, the electrical problems caused thousands of dollars in damage to household appliances and electronic equipment, including computers.

They blame Progress Energy for what they think was a power surge and filed claims with the utility company to recover their loss.

Progress Energy has rejected the claims. The homeowners have now turned to the Florida Public Service Commission to resolve the case.

Last week, Finocchi recalled the May incident.

"It's Saturday morning just around 9 and not a cloud in the sky. Suddenly there was an explosion in my electrical box, which is in my master bedroom.

My children started screaming that the television was exploding, the dogs started barking, and then the next thing that started happening was that lights started surging, like just super bright, and stayed bright,'' she said.

Finocchi rushed her children outdoors. Minutes later, she and neighbors spotted smoke coming from her attic.

It turned out to be a small fire caused by electrical wires that burned some insulation, said deputy fire marshal Lt. Joel Granata of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue.

For Woolums and Jones, that day's problem was nothing new. They had experienced electrical problems in November and March.

"Again we had a situation where the power upstairs, the lights were flickering and then downstairs, they were completely off," Jones said.

"I went to check in the neighborhood and looked down the block and saw the top power cable had fallen into the Bright House Networks cable. I came back, and I turned off all the circuit breakers in my house, but not before my son realized that something was wrong and there were sparks coming out of the power strip, and the fan accelerated and there were different things happening.''

Woolums said when Progress Energy employees responded to an incident in November, they explained that the problem was caused by connections from a pole behind his house.

"They said we'll switch them out, and then they left. If they fixed it, how come it happened two more times?" he asked.

In March, he said, "Things started popping in the house. … All of a sudden, within 10 or 15 minutes, there were four Progress Energy people there again, and it was the pole across the street. They seemed to know exactly what it was.''

In May, "That's when I went outside and saw the line on fire,'' Woolums said, adding that smoke was coming from his home's main electrical panel.

"That's when I shut everything down. Then Bama (Finocchi) started yelling. I ran next door. The same thing was happening to her. I shut off all her stuff with a broom.''

The deputy fire marshal said the department got three calls in a row that morning from Woodlawn — at 9:11, 9:24 and 9:31. The problem could have been caused by one of several electrical issues, he said, one of which could have been a power surge.

Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said the November and March incidents were outages, not surges, and unrelated to what happened that Saturday morning.

"In May, there was an unforeseen equipment failure, and unfortunately that did not meet the standard where we would meet claims,'' she said.

"They are playing word games when, in fact, they need to take some kind of responsibility,'' Woolums said.

An outage "wouldn't have blown all these different appliances all up and down the neighborhood. They are minimizing and using their technical jargon and knowledge of the minutiae of their industry to circumvent their responsibility.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Woodlawn residents blame Progress Energy for damaging incidents 09/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 1:25pm]
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