Lightning causes fire, knocks out emergency communications

Shelf clouds approaching Atmore Friday afternoon

News Staff Writer

Portions of Atmore’s public safety communications network were still out of order early Tuesday, damaged by a fierce thunderstorm that hit the community around 5 p.m. Friday (July 19), spewing lightning and wind that toppled trees and started a house fire.
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks reported Monday afternoon that most of the emergency communications used by city police and firefighters had been “patched” and was back online, although some minor problems still existed.
The system went down after a lightning bolt either scored a direct hit on Atmore City Hall or struck very near it. Routine calls from citizens went unanswered, while 911 calls were diverted to emergency dispatchers in Brewton.
“We still don’t know exactly where it hit,” said Brooks. “But it shook the whole building.”
Fire Chief Ron Peebles said lightning was also the catalyst for an unusual house fire that occurred around 9 p.m. and left a home along Alabama 21 with “pretty moderate” fire, smoke and water damage in its upper regions.
“What happened was, lightning struck a copper water pipe and ran up into the attic,” Peebles said. “The insulation in the attic smoldered for two or three hours before enough air finally caused it to catch.”
Peebles said the homeowner told him that he began smelling smoke shortly after the worst of the storm passed through. But, the man said, his neighbors were “always burning something” and he didn’t give the smoke a serious thought.
About two hours later, the man told firefighters, his doorbell began a constant ringing shortly before his home began to fill with smoke that he then realized was coming from his attic.
“That was caused by the wires in the doorbell fusing together,” Peebles said.
AFD personnel remained on the scene for 90 minutes before the threat of more insulation igniting was deemed over.
Other than that, damage from the storm was minimal, except in one instance.
Trees fell across two roadways — Jack Springs Road and West Nashville Avenue — causing some minor traffic problems. A third landed on the home of Steve and Gail Brown, near the junction of Craig Street and Rockaway Creek Road.
The police chief said damage to the home was extensive. Efforts to reach the homeowners by Tuesday’s press deadline were unsuccessful.