By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A lightning-heavy storm cell that moved through Atmore Sunday afternoon was blamed for a fire that damaged a Grubbs Street home and a near-fire at a McKenzie Street home.
The McKenzie Street residence was the first affected by the bolts of electrified air that came flashing out of the black clouds that dumped heavy rain on the area.
According to Atmore Fire Department Capt. Jeremy Blackmon, around 3:50 p.m., “lightning hit something in the area and surged back through the house.” The home’s occupants smelled burning wiring, and firefighters discovered that HVAC wires under the house had become grounded and overheated.
After a close inspection to make sure the threat of fire had passed, the homeowner was advised to call an electrician.
While there was no measurable damage in that incident, another lightning strike that came less than an hour later did leave its mark.
Firefighters were sent at 4:46 p.m. to the Grubbs Street residence, which had apparently taken a direct hit from a cloud-to-ground electrical discharge. They arrived to find flames coming from the attic on the west side of the structure.
Reports show that AFD personnel were able to make a “quick stop” of the fire, but found the house had been “electrified” by the lightning strike. Once electrical service was disconnected, a damage assessment was done.
“About a third of the attic and insulation was damaged,” Blackmon said. “We had to take the vinyl siding and some of the subceiling off the west side of the house.”
The fire captain said the lightning “either struck the house and ran the cable line or hit the cable box outside and ran into the house.” There was minor fire damage and some water damage to the home, and firemen used a tarp to cover a bedroom that was left partially exposed to the elements.
Efforts to find out how many lightning strikes were spawned by the storm were unsuccessful, although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website showed that hundreds occurred Sunday across Lower Alabama.
National Weather Service meteorologists reported that there is only a 1 in 28,500 chance that a person will be hit by lightning and that nine out of 10 people survive after being struck by lightning.
News photo by Tom Tschida