I&M workers survey damage at Pizza Hut. (Photo by Jannaya Andrews)
Inconvenience quickly turned to chaos as downed power lines caused widespread outages and sparked a fire in the Custom Car Care storage building on Thursday.
At approximately 9:30 a.m. a semitrailer driven by Edgar Butler of East Point, Michigan, attempted to drive between two I&M poles on the west side of the Pizza Hut parking lot.
Butler told investigators he was looking for Walmart. Having been told the store was behind Pizza Hut, its former location, Butler turned into the Pizza Hut parking lot after missing the entrance to Rural King.
Butler, who declined to comment afterward, apparently misjudged the height of the power lines. His trailer caught the lines, snapping the two poles and causing power outages all along 13th St. — including traffic lights.
While emergency personnel were trying to determine how to remove the truck from the downed lines, a bystander in the nearby Rural King parking lot began yelling, "Fire! There's a fire!"
According to a report, the fire ignited as a result of the power surge when the poles were toppled. Firefighters, who were already on-scene, responded immediately and within minutes were hosing down the storage building, which contained 11 vehicles.
While Decatur firefighters were battling the blaze, an alarm sounded at Walgreen's Pharmacy less than two blocks to the south. The Preble Fire Department was called in to assist on that call, which turned out to be a false alarm likely caused by the downed lines.
Assistant Fire Chief Jim Hitchcock reported this morning that firefighters also checked a few houses after the surge to ensure they were safe, and are waiting for a representative of Goody's, which still owns the building next to Custom, to inspect the building before restoring power.
Meanwhile, I&M crews were busy planning a course of action to find alternate switch points to route power through to restore outages quickly.
"It's just a mess," said an I&M spokesperson. "We're going to do everything we can, but it's going to be a while," estimating power could be out until late afternoon.
Although many homes and businesses had power around 7 p.m. Thursday, there were still reports of outages this morning, including Pizza Hut, which reportedly will likely not have power until sometime this evening.
Early estimates put damages at around $50,000.