When she heard the first thunderclap July 10, Nellie Chase stayed in bed. The storm was hardly the first to pass over Brookland this summer.
“The night before had been just as bad,” Chase says, “except it wasn’t quite so close.”
When the second one sounded, she got up to shut her bedroom window. That’s when the third clap came, and it knocked her back onto her bed.
The power failed, too, but Chase, a 71-year-old retired mental-health research technician, could see a strange light outside, on the 1300 block of Lawrence Street NE.
“My shades were all aglow, and I thought, What in the world is that?” she says.
The answer came from her sister-in-law, visiting in another room, and her husband, who was downstairs: Chase’s car was on fire, they called out.
Active power lines, downed by the storm, had landed on her gold 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis, parked on the street in front of the house. Chase made her way downstairs, where her husband, Joseph Chase, cautioned her to stay away from the front windows.
“If it explodes, it’ll be the glass that does the most harm,” Chase recalls her husband saying, “because it’ll fly over and cut you.”
According to Chase’s neighbor James Bennett, the fire department soon arrived, but “they couldn’t do anything because the wires were still dancing.”
Chase says she was too scared to pay much notice to the time, but she estimates that the Mercury fried for at least an hour. The feared explosion, though, never came.
“It just burned and burned and burned, and lit up the whole sky,” she says. From amid the blaze, she heard the horn and the car alarm sound off, then fall silent.
By Friday morning, all that remained was a burned-out husk. The tires had melted, the metal body was scorched, and seats had been stripped to their frames.
And all around the car, there were tiny pebbles. Most were smooth and most were blue, Chase says, though some were bluish green. The bits were the glass from the Marquis, Chase concluded, after it had been cooked. “I call them my jewels,” she says.
But the driver of the flatbed truck Chase’s insurance company dispatched the following Tuesday was interested only in the gnarled carcass of the Marquis, not the surrounding litter. “[He] took off before I could say, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of this?’” Chase recalls.
The conflagration had scarred the pavement, leaving a pair of holes, roughly 6 inches across. So Chase and her husband solved two problems at once: He shoveled up the glass pebbles, and Chase swept them into the holes as filler. “They just ran down like…#sugar going through an hourglass,” she says.
What the scar couldn’t accommodate filled about half of a Supercan. When the Department of Public Works left a note after the next collection date saying that the can was too heavy, Joseph Chase split the load between his two Supercans and that of their son, who lives across the street. CP