Lightning Causes Two Fires | Long Island Estate Protection

Lightning during late evening thunderstorms Sept. 21 that continued into the early morning hours of Sept. 22 caused two house fires in the Woodstock area. The first fire was reported at 11:30 p.m. at 13516 Charles Road, at the home of Ken and Joyce Maynard, said Woodstock Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Webster.

Webster said an electrical surge caused by the lightning may have entered the home either through electrical wires or through piping from the well on the property. “Apparently, it struck outside the house and found a path in,” said Webster.

Webster said that when Maynard heard a loud boom of thunder, he thought his house may have been hit. When his smoke alarm went off, he checked and found a small fire in the basement, near where some seasonal decorations were stored.

“(Maynard) was able to do some good with a garden hose, actually, in the basement, keeping it in check,” said Webster. “He did a good thing because he called us first, before getting the hose.” Often, Webster added, when a homeowner tries to put out a small fire without calling 9-1-1 first, a small fire may become a large fire. “People should always call first with any fire, even when they feel there is no longer a need,” Webster added.

Webster said the fire was nearly out and had not spread beyond the basement when firefighters arrived. Fire squad members ventilated the smoke and checked for residual fire in hidden spaces. Maynard’s wife was at home at the time of the fire, but there were no injuries to the Maynards or to firefighters. However, smoke damage was significant enough that Maynards evacuated the home. Woodstock Fire/Rescue Deputy Chief Terry Menzel said that the fire caused approximately $1,000 in damage to contents and that electrical damage would probably raise the total damage figure. There was no structural damage, Menzel said.

Calhoun Street fire

The second fire was reported about 5 a.m., Sept. 22, at 405 Calhoun St., near Seminary Avenue. “It followed a phone line into the basement … once the line was energized, the wire heated up and came into contact with some combustibles and that started the fire,” said Webster. A smoke alarm alerted the homeowner.

The fire was confined to the basement and took less than five minutes to extinguish, Webster added. The home was occupied by Sharlyn Neely and her mother, Ellen Nelson. Neither occupant was directly injured by the fire, but Nelson was take to Centegra Memorial Medical Center, Woodstock, to be checked out.

The home was not deemed habitable because of smoke damage and significant electrical damage from the strike. Menzel estimated that there was at least $25,000 worth of structural damage and close to $10,000 in damage to contents and that electrical repairs would raise that figure considerably.

The mechanics of a lightning strike fire

“It’s not unusual to get two lightning strikes in the same storm — but it’s unusual that they caused separate fires,” Webster said. Not every lightning strike on or near a structure will cause a fire, he added. In the Calhoun Street fire, it is not known if the lightning even directly struck the home. “It could have hit at the pole and followed the line in,” Webster said. “It would have followed the path of least resistance, whatever that happened to be.”

Since the fire came in through the phone lines, firefighters also checked cable televisions and computer equipment in the house. They also checked both houses from basement to attic for any residual fires. “We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned,” Webster added.

For anyone who thinks their home may have been struck in a lightning storm, Webster said that making a quick survey of all levels of the building is a good way to check for any fire caused by an electrical surge finding its way in. “More important, the early detection device notified the homeowners,” he added.

© 2006, The Woodstock Independent