Small electrical fire in apartment forces evacuation of DSU students

ST. GEORGE — A part of 1000 East in St. George was blocked off by firetrucks Monday night after fire crews were alerted to a possible fire in one of the apartment complexes across the street from Dixie State University. While the issue turned out to be relatively minor, it displaced at least two students for the night.

Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation one of the building at the Avalon Apartments complex at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation one of the buildings at the Avalon Apartments at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Around 7:25 p.m. Monday, the St. George Fire Department was alerted to a possible structure fire in one of the units of the Avalon Apartments at 333 S. 1000 East. The apartments are rented out as housing for students attending DSU across the street.

“Upon our arrival, we saw the entire building was out of power — all six units had actually lost power,” St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said. “The unit that had the problem was in the bottom right. … All occupants were evacuated.”

Prior to the arrival of fire crews, DSU students Kaitlyn DeLange and Danni Bartholf said they were in their apartment watching TV when they suddenly heard a loud “pop” come from the laundry room and the lights went off. The laundry room is where the apartment’s circuit breaker panel is located.

“We went into the laundry room and there was a bunch of smoke and our (circuit) breaker was on fire,” Bartholf said. “So we came out to find management. We came back in and saw the wall was black and we called 911.”

The apartment’s occupants told firefighters the “pop” happened shortly after the stove was turned on.

Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation one of the building at the Avalon Apartments complex at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation one of the buildings at the Avalon Apartments at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“It appears what happened is a malfunction with the stove, possibly, at which time the breakers in the breaker panel did not trip and it activated the power back to the transformer,” Stoker said.

When the power hit the transformer, an internal breaker tripped and power to all six units shut off.

“It takes a lot (of power) to pop the breaker in a transformer,” Stoker said, adding the internal breaker was a fail-safe measure for instances like this. Though instead of shutting off power to one apartment, it shut off power to all of them.

Firefighters went though each unit in the complex checking the breaker panels while a technician from St. George Energy Services removed the power meter from the apartment where the malfunction occurred, leaving it without power for the evening.

Power was restored to the other units and the occupants were allowed go back inside around 8:30 p.m.

Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation one of the building at the Avalon Apartments complex at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Firefighters responded to a potential structure fire that resulted in the evacuation of one of the buildings at the Avalon Apartment at 333 S. 1000 East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Though temporarily displaced from their apartment, Stoker said the apartment management was already looking for a place to put DeLange and Bartholf for the night. The damage to the apartment itself is relatively minor with estimates to repair at around $1,000. DeLange and Bartholf won’t be allowed back into the apartment until an electrician is able to replace the damaged portion of the electrical system.

“There’s a little bit of damage to the breaker box itself; the breakers will need to be replaced along with some wiring that’s melted,” Stoker said.

On a structure fire, Stoker said the usual response is three firetrucks and a ladder truck, but about twice that many responded to the apartment as it was the weekly training night for the firefighters.

Stoker said it’s believed the Avalon Apartments were built in the 1980s, so the circuit breakers inside may be just as old. At that stage, they can start to go bad, so testing at least once a year is encouraged, he said.

Apartments used for student housing and apartments in general are considered potential hazards by the Fire Department due to the high density of people who tend to live there and their proximity to other buildings. Because of this, fire crews treat the matter very seriously and will respond with a large amount of equipment and manpower.

No injures were reported in connection with the incident, Stoker said.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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