Power surge damages computers, televisions

Published 8:33 am Friday, January 7, 2011

BOYKINS—An electrical surge triggered nearly two dozen calls about possible fires in southwestern Southampton County on Wednesday and left many with damaged computers, televisions and other electronic equipment.

“One of our Town Council members had computers burned out, and another lost a television and computer,” Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards said Thursday.

Capron Elementary School lost six computers.

“They just wouldn’t turn on,” said Bill Hatch, technician specialist with Southampton County Public Schools.

An equipment malfunction at a Boykins substation at 1 p.m. caused the surge, leaving nearly 700 customers in Boykins, Drewryville, Newsoms, Capron and Branchville without power, said Bonita Harris, manager of media and community relations for Dominion Power in Norfolk.

The malfunction “resulted in high voltage, which caused the outages and some complications,” Harris said.

Power was restored three hours later.

Harris said the company is investigating the malfuction. Anyone with damaged equipment can file a claim with the utility by calling 1-866-366-4357.

“They can direct them on how to put in an application to see if they qualify (for compensation),” she said. “One factor in considering a claim is determining if we were somehow negligent in maintaining the equipment. We don’t like to see our customers inconvenienced.”

The surge caused problems for the post office in Capron, where Officer in Charge Ginger Smith said surge protectors started popping, the building took on smoke and “a big ball of fire came out” of her computer.

“It was kind of scary,” Smith said.

Boykins Fire Chief Clete Lassiter said his department received seven or eight calls about the smell of smoke inside homes.

“When we got there, there was pretty much nothing,” Lassiter said.

Boykins Police Sgt. George Brozzo said the power surge triggered a lot of fire alarm calls.

“Things actually sparked a little bit, but most of the stuff has been false alarms,” Brozzo said.

Edwards said he received 25 to 30 calls from people wanting to know what was going on.

“We’ve heard there were some electrical fires, smoke coming from receptacles, sparks and so forth,” Edwards said.

Newsoms firefighters received six calls between 1:30 and 2 p.m. about the smell of smoke in homes and BB&T bank on General Thomas Highway, said Assistant Chief Jonathan Hinson.

“Everything we found was that pretty much electrical equipment had malfunctioned, a lot of TVs and stereos,” Hinson said. “Some people saw smoke (in their homes).”

Drewryville volunteer firefighters went door-to-door, asking residents to turn off their power, said Assistant Fire Chief Darryl Madison.

“We asked them to turn off their main breakers just in case it (the power) comes on and there was another power surge,” Madison said. “The area is pretty much widows, and we had to go in and turn it off for them.”

Firefighters planned to knock on those doors again once the power was returned, he said.

Around Capron, folks also were advised to turn off their breakers.

The post office, however, remained open.

“We’re still a manual office,” Smith said. “We don’t have a computer at the window.”