Gattis Junior High School students await permission to return to their classrooms Monday after being evacuated for a fire alarm. CNJ staff photo: Loretta Kos.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
Leftover damage from an earlier lightning strike knocked out power to more than a thousand students and staff at two schools Monday morning, and also shut down a health clinic and the county health department.
Manuel Molina, principal of Gattis Junior High School, said he decided to evacuate Gattis about 9 a.m. as a precaution after noticing a smell of smoke in the building.
“We didn’t want to take any chances so we had a fire drill and had the fire department come and check it out,” Molina said. “The fire department cleared it and gave us the OK to bring the students in after about 10 to 15 minutes.”
Molina said the smell turned out to be coming from a defective light ballast.
Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said the outage knocked out the alarm systems at both Gattis Junior High and Cameo Elementary, but without indications of fire or smoke problems there was no need to evacuate Cameo.
Cameo principal Carrie Nigreville said the power outage only ran until about 10 a.m. and the school moved classes around to take advantage of rooms with windows.
“Our classrooms that had no exterior light moved to other classrooms; some were reading, some were continuing teaching, and some met in the hallway,” Nigreville said. “I think it went pretty smoothly considering what we were dealing with.”
While Gattis and Cameo were able to get classes started within a short period of time, La Casa Family Health Center and the Curry County Health Department had more serious problems.
“We had to shut down,” said Gayla Jaquess, nurse manager at the health department. “They told us it would probably be about three hours so we closed until 1 p.m.”
Jaquess said about 50 people had appointments that morning for immunization shots or meetings with the Women, Infants and Children food program, children’s medical services and Families First programs, and all of them had to be postponed.
“It’s immunization day so unfortunately you can’t do shots in the dark,” Jaquess said. “We took everybody we could this afternoon and rescheduled those we couldn’t.”
Karla Lee, practice manager at La Casa, said her facility lost power about 9 a.m. and shut down until 1 p.m.
“It affected our work tremendously,” Lee said. “Our phones went down and everything. We weren’t able to call and it was hard on those who relied on public transportation.”
Bill Crenshaw, spokesman for Xcel Energy, said his records show power was restored to all customers by 9:49 a.m. and he wasn’t sure why the two medical facilities remained closed after that time.
“Service availability was restored to all the customers at the same time; (our serviceman) is certain of that,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw said the serviceman started his check of the area at Cameo Elementary and found one of three lines serving the school — technically known as a “phase” — was out of service. Checks farther down the line revealed that a fuse had interrupted power because a lightning arrestor elsewhere on the line had blown.
“We speculated that the lightning arrestor may have been damaged by the rain and lightning storm that moved through Clovis last week,” Crenshaw said. “That it had suffered a lightning stroke is apparent; when it suffered the stroke is not known, but it chose today to give out.”
Crenshaw said the outage affected a total of 28 electric meters — the two schools, two government buildings, three apartment buildings and several residences — and was confined to an area bordered by 13th Street, Stanton Place, Cameo Street, and Martin Luther King Boulevard.