BELLINGHAM - Classes have been canceled for Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Sehome High School after an explosion from a blown transformer sparked a small electrical fire and knocked out power to the school.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, it was unclear if the school would reopen Wednesday as repairs were still being made and damage assessed, according to Bellingham School District spokeswoman Tanya Rowe. Officials expected an update on the status by late Tuesday afternoon.
Lights in the parking lots around the school flickered and shut off without warning just before 11:55 p.m. Monday. Custodian Nikolay Shkurat, working his regular night shift, heard crackling and pops coming from a couple hundred feet away for the next few minutes.
Suddenly, a loud boom echoed through the neighborhood.
"No flames, no nothing," Shkurat said. "Just loud."
Everything went dark. He looked up to see heavy dark smoke pouring from the boiler room, a 30- by 30-foot brick building on the east side of the school, adjacent to Voltaire Court.
A three-alarm response from the Bellingham Fire Department got scaled down within minutes after the first firefighters forced open the boiler room door and put out the flames coming from one of the school's three transformers.
All three transformers are needed to power the school. Electricians with Puget Sound Energy and the school district figured they could fix the problem by Tuesday afternoon. But until then the school would be without power.
About 2:30 a.m. Bellingham School District officials announced Sehome would be closed Tuesday.
Shortly after the explosion, neighbors huddled around outside to watch the electricians wave flashlights at the back door of the brick building. Hazy white smoke drifted from a vent on the side of the building.
Streetlights on Samish Way were briefly knocked out. Part of a nearby apartment complex on Ferry Avenue lost power, too, but it was expected to be restored within a few hours.
The interior of the boiler building took some smoke damage. Other than the one transformer, however, nothing seemed to have been touched by flames.
"That's why they put 'em in brick buildings like this," said Bellingham Fire Battalion Chief Chuck Henkel.
Firefighters cleared the scene by 1:15 a.m. They're still looking into the likely cause of the fire. A damage estimate wasn't available early Tuesday.
Correction: The spelling of Nikolay Shkurat's name was corrected Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 26.