Westside Elementary evacuated Thursday due to smoky library

A downed power line was responsible for knocking out electricity for about two-and-a-half hours Thursday morning on the west side of Hood River, as well as indirectly sparking a small fire at Westside Elementary that sent smoke through the school and triggered an evacuation.

West Side Fire Department Fire Marshall Jim Trammell said a downed wire at the corner of St. Charles Place and Belmont Drive caused a power outage at approximately 7:45 Thursday morning. The outage, in turn, caused a HVAC motor in the ceiling of Westside Elementary to burn out, sending smoke through a ventilation duct and into the school library.

Barb Cooper, secretary at Westside Elementary, said the smoke caused “a light haze” to descend upon the library and set off fire alarms, right when students were arriving to start their school day. Staff had to evacuate the school and stop arriving students from entering the building.

Students were ushered to the school’s playground where they tried to stay warm on a morning where temperatures stayed well below freezing. Some kids did not come prepared for the weather and Cooper said school staff “improvised” and handed out coats for students to share.

Students were outside for less than 30 minutes while West Side firefighters located the smoking motor. Trammell said there was no smoke damage to the school and teachers were able to resume their lessons, albeit, without power.

Cooper reported that the school just happened to run a fire drill on Wednesday, which undoubtedly helped Thursday’s evacuation go as smooth as it did.

“Kids, staff — everyone was great,” Cooper said.

Tom Gauntt, spokesperson for Pacific Power, which supplies electricity to the Hood River area, said the outage affected 1,100 customers on portions of Country Club Road, Belmont, Indian Creek Road, Firwood Drive, and Post Canyon. The downed line was repaired and service was returned at around 10:15 a.m.

The cause of the downed wire is unknown, but Trammell suspected ice crystals on the power line may have played a role in its failure.

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