Thursday, July 25, 2002

Lightning sparks house fire

Published in the Current

Cindy Andreson was at home Tuesday with her parents, who live with her and her husband on Val Terrace, when a big thunderstorm hit Scarborough around 4 p.m. Lightning lit up the sky, and several bolts struck near Andreson’s house.

“We heard a loud bang and we jumped,” she said. The smoke alarms went off in the house, but after checking each room, Andreson couldn’t find
any smoke. She called her husband, Charlie, a former town councilor, at work to ask what she should do next. He told her to shut off the circuit breaker, which she did. But that was only the beginning.

“Somebody knocked on our door and said the house is on fire,” she said.

Lightning had struck dead center on the roof of the house and set it on fire. The fire spread through several beams in the roof, burning a hole through to the attic.

Firefighters, already on duty at downed wires and car accidents around town, raced to the scene, arriving shortly after 4 p.m. Within 30 minutes they had the fire almost completely out and were checking the home’s interior for further flames.

Firefighters were able to retrieve Andreson’s mother’s medication from the home, and had also moved much of the furniture into the garage, limiting water and smoke damage to some extent.

The fire damage was contained to the attic, according to Deputy Fire Chief Glen Deering, but there was water damage to the rest of the house.

Firefighters cleaned up the scene and covered the house with tarpaulins supplied by Risbara Construction, Deering said, departing around 7 p.m.

Lightning strikes can cause fires, but don’t always, Deering said. Depending on the electricity’s path to the ground, a strike can do damage or start a burn.

Around the same time as the Andreson home caught fire, lightning struck a barn on Winnocks Neck Road, Deering said.

Both strikes were in roughly the same place on the buildings, the middle of the roof, but the barn suffered only minor exterior damage as the current traveled the length of the roof and blew off some clapboard from the end of the building, Deering said.

“It’s like an act of God,” he said.

When fire does start, it is because of the intense energy contained in a bolt of lightning. As the energy changes from traveling through the air and starts traveling in wood or other materials, it gives off heat, which can ignite the materials.

Lightning also blew the chimney off a house on Star Pine Lane, Deering said, but no fire was found there.

A similar thunderstorm on July 18 resulted in a lightning strike at a home on Beech Ridge Road. The fire department arrived around 3 a.m. and found that a bolt of lightning had struck next to the house and the current had traveled
inside. There was no fire, but a computer and several electrical components in the house were ruined, Deering said. “You could smell the smoke,” he said, of the melted electrical equipment.

Later that day, around 10 a.m., the fire department received a call from a woman on Old Colony Lane who reported her home had also been struck during the night. Firefighters checked that out, but found nothing, Deering said.