Just as the Charlie Daniels Band was ready to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the lights went down in Elma.
The headlining act at the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds Wednesday was about to close its set to what organizers said was a crowd of several thousand on the opening night of the fair when power suddenly went out across the grounds.
The Grays Harbor PUD reported the outage occurred about 9:40 p.m. when a car hit a power pole, affecting about 1,200 customers from the fairgrounds east toward McCleary. It took about an hour to restore power to most customers, said PUD spokeswoman Liz Anderson.
On stage, lights flickered and dimmed, but the sound system was backed up by an independent generator that allowed Daniels to at least play his biggest hit and end the show before the crowd had to disperse into the dark.
“All the power went off throughout the fairgrounds except in the carnival area and the stage area, because they both run on generators,” said Mike Bruner, fair manager. “So Charlie Daniels said, ‘I guess you all can hear me, so we’re going to continue the show.’ And he finished with ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’
“We really lucked out. It would have been disappointing for people to not hear that song. Luckily, we had the generators.”
The rest of the fairgrounds went into emergency procedures as people began to exit into the dark parking lots. A horse show was stopped in progress, but no one panicked, said Kelly Peterson-Lalka, the fair’s office manager.
“Everybody pulled together and we had a process to help people,” she said. “It was was very orderly.”
Fair attendance (10,164 for the day) was up 1,764 over last year on opening day, thanks in large part to the popularity of Charlie Daniels.
Bruner said it was the highest attendance in the four years he’s been with the fair and that many people stayed late for the concert. When the power went out, there were still about 15-20 minutes left before the fair closed at 10 p.m.
The fair dispatched staff to all the exit gates to help people find their way out, and brought out utility vehicles to shine lights on all of the pedestrian traffic areas, such as the midway walking lanes.
“We just tried to give people enough light so they could find their way out,” Bruner said. “We had a little luck in that nobody got hurt. Things happen and you just got to do the best you can to adjust.”
Bruner thanked Daniels for sticking around and ending the show on a high note by playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
“He put on a great show for us, but it could have ended a lot worse for us if that song hadn’t been able to be played,” Bruner said. “We are just lucky it turned out the way it did.”
The outage was apparently caused by an accident on Cloquallum Road outside Elma. Three teenagers said a deer ran in front of their car and the driver, a 16-year-old girl, swerved to avoid it.
“They hit the power pole hard enough to shear it off, hit a tree, and smashed the front of the car,” said Fire District 5 Chief Dan Prater said. He was one of the responders from his district, the Elma Fire Department and Fire District 2.
The car caught fire after the crash, also starting a small brush fire.
“I couldn’t even tell you what kind of car it was, it was fully involved when I arrived,” Prater added.
The girl and her two passengers, both 15 year-old boys, all got out of the car before the fire started. One suffered a minor ankle injury but all appeared stable, Prater said. They were all transported to Providence St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia.
The Montesano Fire Department took one of District 5’s calls in McCleary while its firefighters worked on the accident scene.