Fire shutters doors on first day at PCA

Published 12:05 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Smoke from what was termed an aging electrical panel and loss of power canceled Porters Chapel Academy classes just hours after the first day of the school year got under way Monday.

“It was a fine morning,” Headmaster Doug Branning said, until lights, air conditioners and computers shut down around 11:10 and Branning spotted smoke coming from a wiring box on the outside of the building.

The school’s 200-plus students were sent home for the day while crews from the Vicksburg Fire Department and Entergy Mississippi responded to the Porters Chapel Road campus.

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Electricians at PCA worked until 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday, replacing breaker boxes and repairing wiring, Branning said. School resumed at PCA this morning without incident.

“We know the problem is electrical, but we don’t know why it occurred,” VFD inspector and investigator Sam Brocato said around noon Monday, as a city fire truck and other emergency vehicles and staff remained on scene while electricians began to work.

Brocato said it was not possible to determine if the fault was a buildup of corrosion inside the box. It could also have been caused by a system overburdened during the recent stretch of high temperatures, he said.

No one was injured and the building was not damaged.

“The panel cover kept sparks and flames, if there were any, confined to the box,” Brocato said. “That’s what that metal door is for, and it did its job.”

Branning, who was on the job around 6:15 a.m., said students began arriving at 7:30. Classes got under way at 8, and were following a modified schedule for the first day of classes. Students were about to change classes when the power went out.

Parents were alerted by phone to come and pick up their children. Students waited outside under shady porticos for parents to arrive. “It’s cooler out here than it is inside,” said one PCA staffer.

About 210 students, 4-year-old kindergartners through 12th grade, reported for the first day of classes at the private school, Branning said.