Blaze destroys Portales business

Freedom New Mexico photo: Karl Terry Firefighters were called to a blaze at Pioneer Woodworkers, east of Portales, around 11 p.m. Thursday.

Freedom New Mexico Staff

Joe Chandler says he was just 50 feet from his shop when lightning struck Thursday evening sparking a fire.

The Portales custom furniture business was destroyed by the blaze early Friday morning.

Portales Fire Department units were dispatched to Pioneer Woodworkers on State Highway 88 — the Arch Highway — around 11 p.m. Thursday.

Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief Gary Nuckols said lightning ignited the blaze.

“We don’t know if it was a direct hit,” he said, “or if it hit the electrical system, but it was definitely lightning.”

Chandler said he was in bed listening and watching the storm through his open bedroom window about 11 p.m. Thursday when the storm turned violent.

“There was a direct hit on the shop roof then half a second later it struck again in the same place,” Chandler recalled. “The second time it showered the bedroom window with hot, molten metal from the building.”

Chandler said he went to check the building and told his wife to call 911.

“By the time I got out there it was fully involved in the north end,” Chandler said.

He and son Chad Chandler were able to pull a pickup and trailer loaded with furniture ready for delivery from the building with a tractor. By that time stuff from the second floor, where Chandler says the fire started, was already starting to fall.

Nuckols said firefighters battled the blaze into the morning hours Friday. “We had numerous units and over 20 personnel on scene,” he said.
The metal structure, located about half a mile east of the Portales Cemetery, contained woodworking machinery, tools, wood supplies and furniture. In addition, Chandler said his son and his wife had furniture and appliances stored in the building while they are building their home along with the family’s ATVs.

“The building and its contents were completely destroyed,” Nuckols said. “It was a total loss.”

Chandler says his business is broke after the fire. Fire insurance had become too expensive for the business to afford and the only items that may be covered are the household items and vehicles. He estimates the loss to be approximately $500,000.

“I lost all my equipment. I have no equipment left at all,” Chandler said.

He is uncertain at this point about the fate of the business. He says he has lots of furniture orders he needs to get done but no place to work on them.