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Storms knock out power across country

Lightning strike damages Doby's Mill elementary

Posted: July 3, 2012 5:13 p.m.
Updated: July 4, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A member of the Lugoff Fire Department works to put out one of two side-by-side truck fires behind a hotel at I-20 and U.S. 601 late Sunday night. Luckily, temperatures had cooled a little by this time following day-time heat that soared well above 100 degrees.


Severe storms that hit the area Sunday evening left about one-third of Kershaw County residents without power Sunday and Monday morning according to Kershaw County Fire Marshal Gene Faulkenberry.

Faulkenberry said power loss occurred in various parts of the county, but noted such an occurrence wasn’t unusual for a summer storm.   

“We had power outages spread throughout the county,” Faulkenberry said. “This is sort of typical though for South Carolina with the storms we’ve been having. You get trees down and power outages … those things are just typical for our summer storms here.”

Faulkenberry indicated Monday afternoon, however, that power had been restored across the entire county.

He also said three different cells of storms hit during the weekend.

“The first one was pretty bad. It came on the western part of the county. Then one came in around the Buffalo, Bethune area. We had good bit of rain around there, but I didn’t really hear of any damage. The third one sort of came across from the Richland County area with heavy rain and some thunder and lighting, but I didn’t hear about much damage there either,” Faulkenberry said.

He explained that when severe storms strike, people should always check for weather updates in order to be aware of any potential harm.  

“Listen to your weather alert radio, regular radio stations, or the TV for updates. People need to monitor those because it’ll give you a good idea of what’s coming, when it’s coming, and what to expect.”

Tom Couch, Camden’s director of public works, said about 500 of the city’s 9,000 customers experienced power outages during the weekend.

“Some of those outages were because of the heat, overloaded transformers and what not. Some of them were storm related,” Couch said. “But it was a pretty good sized storm. It only affected one circuit for us, which was fortunate. That was our Kershaw Highway Circuit, up towards Westville. We had a tree on the line there.”

He said during power outages, individuals should call the city’s office to acquire or provide information and to always be aware of any lines that have fallen.

“Stay away from any downed lines until we get a chance to come out there and take a look at it,” he said.

Mark Connors with Fairfield Electric Cooperative said Sunday’s storms “packed a punch” in all five of the counties the company services, which include Chester, Fairfield, Richland, and York Counties, but noted Kershaw County customers didn’t receive quite as much damage.

Lightning struck a transformer outside of Doby’s Mill Elementary School (DMES), on Fort Jackson Road around 5 p.m. Sunday. Smoke from the transformer, which caught fire, triggered some detectors, notifying school district and emergency personnel, said Kershaw County School District Director of Communications Mary Anne Byrd.

According to Lugoff Fire Department (LFD) Chief Dennis Ray, Engine 8 arrived first to find smoke coming from the electrical room near the cafeteria.

“Our crews assisted the Doby’s Mill Fire Department crews with extinguishing the fire inside the electrical room as well as an external electrical transformer by the building,” Ray said. “The fire started when lightning struck the power pole in the parking lot, blew the transformer (on that pole) in three places, ran underground through the lines into a large commercial ground transformer, caught all of the transformer wires on fire and severely damaged the wiring inside, then traveled (further) underground into the building’s main electrical storm.”

Both Ray and Byrd deemed the damage to DMES’ electrical room as “minor.” Ray, who said crews left the scene around 7 p.m. Sunday, said the transformer owned by Fairfield Electric  sustained major fire damage from the lightning’s high electrical voltage.

Fairfield Electric’s Connors said Monday morning that the cooperative had things “pretty much under control” in Kershaw County.

“Overall, we had trees down and a lot of power poles broken in all our services areas. It’s a bit unusual that we have pole fires with lighting strikes and we did have that in Kershaw County. Usually with a storm like that, the heat is a big factor. That’s what causes it to be so violent,” Connors said.

Sherri Woodward with Black River Electric Cooperative said the company actually did not have any power outages for customers in Kershaw County.

The co-op covers the eastern and southern parts of the county according to Woodward.

The DMES fire wasn’t the LFD’s only action this past weekend. Ray reported that four crew members, along with the department’s ladder truck, traveled to Cayce to assist with a major fire at the World Wide Recycling Plant. He said the four-man crew stayed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday working on suppression operations.

“The fire was completely out by (Sunday) morning and no one from our station returned to the fire Sunday,” Ray said. “Lt. Jeffrey Simmons with the Cayce Department of Public Safety expressed the department’s deep appreciation for all of the outside public safety help they received from our department and around 30 others throughout the state.”

Sunday night, however, the LFD was back on the job, this time to the parking lot behind a hotel in Lugoff near I-20. Around 11:30 p.m., LFD engines 10 and 9, Rescue 10 and Ladder 10 all responded to a report of two tanker trucks on fire. Initial reports stated the two truck drivers were caught inside, but that turned out not to be the case, Ray said.

“Firefighters were able to stop the fire from igniting the fuel tanks under the rigs and the van trailers being pulled behind the trucks,” Ray said. “One truck sustained complete damage to the cab area and the other truck sustained substantial damage to the cab from the radiant heat of the truck beside it.

“One tractor-trailer rig is a substantial fire; two at the same time beside each other is very unusual and creates a unique challenge for our crews to handle. Fortunately, the fuel tanks were not involved, which helped our crews in this case.”

Unlike his Lugoff counterpart, Camden Fire Department Chief John Bowers said his crews didn’t really see any action during the weekend’s triple-digit temperatures.

“We’ve been fortunate, knock on wood; just not a lot going on. I worry about the fireworks, though, and what that might entail,” Bowers said. “Even what might normally be a standard call in (cooler) weather can be a major deal because you run through your manpower so quickly.”

City of Camden ordinances prohibit the use of fireworks within the city limits; their use is allowed in Kershaw County outside the city (see sidebar for fireworks safety tips).

Kershaw County Coroner Johnny Fellers said Sunday that he has not been called to any heat-related deaths.


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