By Darrell Todd Maurina
As Lowe’s grocery store manager Lee Patterson stood on a ladder Tuesday afternoon replacing smoke-damaged air filters in his store, he marveled that the damage from a Monday evening fire hadn’t been much worse.
“About 11:30 a.m. we opened up for business,” Patterson said. “We got all cleaned up in the back and then cleaned up the front of the store, and the inspectors said we could re-open.”
The only obvious indication of Monday’s fire in the areas open to shoppers was an acrid smell. Farther back in the storage rooms, Patterson pointed out six large pallets full of food items that will be discarded to avoid selling possibly contaminated food to customers. Most items in the bins — macaroni and cheese still in plastic wrapping around groups of boxes, cans of soda, and similar products — didn’t show any signs of damage, but Patterson said they’d been near the store’s compactor when it caught fire and they’d suffered water damage.
The box compactor was a different story — the blacked metal frame had all of its wiring burned as its contents and nearby items caught fire.
Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said the department can’t make a final ruling yet, but all indications point toward equipment failure in the compactor being the cause of the blaze that sent smoke billowing not only through Lowe’s but also an adjacent sporting goods store and gymnastics studio.
“They all had some type of smoke damage,” Burns said. “We told them they would have to contact their insurance companies and let them do their estimations on those. We didn’t know what kind of smoke damage there would be to clothing and all that.”
Mike Muscato of Sports Outlet said he didn’t yet have a damage estimate but didn’t expect serious losses.
“We were able to open about lunch time; we had to get in here with some heavy de-smoke spray and big fans but we’re open,” Muscato said. “It’s not going to be too bad because they caught it in time.”
Kathy Adkins of Play, Inc., said her organization’s gymnastics studio was also open but suffered more serious problems.
“We’ve got quite a bit of smoke damage,” Adkins said. “Of course the carpet (smells of smoke). They’re going to try to put some chemicals down to get the smoke out but I don’t know if they’ll be able to do that.”
Patterson said none of his employees lost pay due to the fire.
“Everybody worked all day today; they were scheduled to work,” Patterson said. “They may have been doing a different job from what they normally do, but they were working and were paid.”