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Numerous fires caused by lightning reported in Henrico: 'Just dumb luck'

Numerous fires caused by lightning reported in Henrico: 'Just dumb luck'
Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 13, 2022

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Powerful storms rolled through Central Virginia on Sunday morning and lightning associated with them sparked a handful of house fires, three separate incidents in Henrico County.

Veteran firefighters said although lightning-sparked house fires are common, it has been some time since that many occurred in one day.

“It was literally like a truck had blown through here or a bomb had gone off. It was crazy,” said Gregg Henson, who lives near one of the fires on Vienna Woods Place.

After hearing the loudest thunderclap in his life, Henson said it took them a few minutes to realize lightning had set their neighbor’s roof ablaze.

“The dogs were freaking out, but we didn’t hear anything until we heard the horns honk on the truck. Then, we noticed that a crowd had gathered, and the flames were coming out of the attic,” Henson said.

“I don’t know what the difference in the mix was yesterday, but we were busy,” said Henrico Battalion Chief Doug Reynolds, a longtime firefighter in the county.

Reynolds said there are limited ways to prevent lightning from hitting a home, for obvious reasons, outside of lightning rods.

“In the case of a lightning strike, that’s just dumb luck. Why did it pick my house out of 150 in the neighborhood?” he said.

Many times, neighbors end up calling 911 about lightning-related house fires because people inside the home do not realize their roof or other portions of their home are on fire.

“They usually fall into two categories: it’s like a real quick, violent fire or they smolder. They can smolder up there for hours before the [fire shows itself],” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be up in your attic area. The areas it usually starts to show itself is usually going to be the vents. But like I say, it’s not usually you can have the whole attic area up in flames. If you look at those top rooms, it’s just not penetrating the living area of your house, so the alarm may not go off yet.”

In one of the three Henrico fires Sunday, lightning struck a tree near a home, traveled through its root system, and touched the gas line in the crawl space of the house. Examples like it are a big reason firefighters suggest safely checking your attic and crawlspace multiple times over the course of several hours if you suspect your home was hit.

“You’d be surprised how it finds a way to wiggle into your house,” Reynold said. “If you feel like your house was hit, that is an acceptable 911 call to us. We have some technology that we can come and check your house. We have thermal imaging cameras.”

Families and homeowners should have a fire escape plan in case of an emergency. It should include working smoke detectors, two known entry/exit points from a building, and a designated meeting point once people clear the structure.

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