Maybe it was preventable
It was not long ago that our friends went through a terrible event. It was something we thought could never happen to anyone we knew, but it did. The couple had a house fire caused by lightning. It was a very rough weather night in our area. Warnings were everywhere and some people were taking cover in basements.
It was about 10:45 p.m. and my friend had gone to bed. Fortunately her husband was awake. He saw lightning and it looked like four or five giant balls, all at one time hitting near the corner of their house. He told me that usually he counts after the lightning hits, you know, one, two, three, for the thunder which might tell how many miles away the lightning is (one mile for each second). But the thunder and lightning were all at once and immediately the whole house began to rattle.
Just about two minutes later he started to smell smoke, called 911 and grabbed his flashlight to check areas of the house. There was no fire to be seen and the power was still on. He reached his finished basement and discovered there was a lot of smoke there.
He woke his wife, and she immediately put on some clothes. Who wants to get caught in their nightgown in the street, right?
At this point, it was just about five minutes after the initial strike and smoke was in the house everywhere. Later he would learn, apparently, that lightning had hit near the natural gas line, where it entered the house.
The Marysville Fire Dept. representative told me that lightning can strike even three feet away from a structure and arc over to the metal covering the gas line. We will get back to that part later.
A police car was in the area and came to their house immediately when he heard the call. He told them to get out of the house, get their car and move it to the street, where they remained. A little later, they moved on to their son’s house. Now, it was about 11 p.m., and raining really hard with lightning striking everywhere.
The fire trucks quickly arrived – three from the Marysville Fire Department, one from Jerome Township and one from Leesburg Township – along with the medics. There were nine pieces of equipment in all, including police cars that filled their street.
The situation was covered, but when the firemen entered the house, it took them almost 10 minutes to find where the fire originated because of a unique situation. It was determined that the blower in the house runs all the time on the air conditioning system, and that circulated the smoke all around the house and confused the situation. It was finally discovered to be in the basement.
Meanwhile our friends were in their car in the neighbor’s driveway in the rain and lightning, hoping that those firemen could do their job and do it well. That’s exactly how it went. The firefighters discovered the fire, brought hoses through a window and the front door and put it out. They then spent another hour or so looking for hotspots. It was determined by about 1:30 a.m. that the couple could go back into their house and grab essentials to live elsewhere. It was no longer safe to stay there.
The fire from the ruptured gas line cover (lighting actually punched holes in the covering, which is a thin metal tube, releasing gas and starting the fire) had traveled along the ceiling of the basement and affected the floor in the story above.
It is estimated that it will take about six months to repair the damage so they can move back in. Their clothes and furniture all smell like smoke.
Now for what may have been the cause of the fire. The owners discovered that since 1990 it has been a code requirement to use corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) on gas lines, and yellow flexible gas line covers.
In some fires, lightning has landed as much as three to four feet from the house and arced to the incoming gas line. It can pierce these flexible gas line covers so gas leaks out and a fire starts. The theory is, if they are bonded or grounded to a grounding system it will be less likely for this to happen. However, some fires have occurred where the systems have been bonded or grounded, which was not required until after 2010. Our friends’ house was built in 2004 and the system was not protected.
Currently, the Marysville Fire Department will provide free screening for your system to determine grounding. If that is needed, an electrician or plumber can provide that service.
This owner said, “This is not something you wish for, and it might have been prevented. We are grateful to the police and fire departments and also to the insurance company that has led us through this process.”
If your home was built before 2010, it might be smart to have the grounding checked.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)