Walmart closed, evacuated on suspicion of fire

Michael Nelson, Contributing Writer
Gonzales Fire and Police departments were on the scene during a late-night evacuation of Walmart on Sunday.

Customers and Employees were all ordered to evacuate the Walmart in Gonzales on Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. 

A strong smell of burning electrical wire insulation filled the vestibule to the right of the Market entrance at 11:20. Two customers were looking for a source of the smell at that time, assisting a store manager who was coordinating with the store office via radio.

At 11:30 the call to clear the building came over the intercom.

Customers in line ready to check out were dismayed to hear from store management that the cash register was closing when they finished ringing up their current customer. 

The self-check area was full. The eight customers currently in the self-registers were allowed to finish their purchases. 

All customers and employees were told to leave immediately. Two dozen customers milled about briefly in the parking lot near the exit, unsure what to do as employees streamed out to their cars for relief from the omnipresent heat and humidity.

As customers exited via the Market entrance, the plastic smell was powerful.

The first Gonzales Fire Department and Police vehicles had arrived by then, turning to block the driveways right in front of the building. 

Two police officers ran inside to sweep the building for stragglers.

A ladder truck and two pumpers arrived immediately thereafter, raising the ladder to put fire crews on the roof to seek a source.

District Fire Chief Leo Graves later reported their crews "could see a haze" in the vestibule and Market entrance where the burning smell was most obvious, yet they could never pinpoint a source for the smell.

By 12:10 the first fire trucks started to leave.

At 12:20 one last sweep of the vestibule area was made. A fire crewman used a thermal camera to inspect the five electric "handicap" carts plugged into the wall there to recharge, and the five Coke and other vending machines.

Nothing appeared above the normal temp range, and no source was found, although the burnt-plastic smell, though faint, was still evident upon first entering that part of the building. 

By 12:40 a.m. the last of the fire vehicles had left, although two police cars remained in the parking lot past 1 a.m.