July 5, 2008

Lightning Strikes Keep Local Firefighters Busy

By Robbyn Brooks and Sean Boone, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Jul. 5--Lightning strikes sent fi refighters on at least three calls in our area. Two strikes sparked fires that caused signifi -- cant damage.

"It all blew up at one time," said Destin Fire Control District Chief Tuffy Dixon.

About 9 a.m. fi re departments took off for Armadillo Trail in Bluewater Bay. Crews from Niceville Fire Department, North Bay Fire Department, Destin Fire Control District and East Niceville Fire Department responded to the 2,500-square-foot home that was on fi re.

When crews arrived, the flames were in the attic.

"We had to go inside and start pulling the ceiling and spraying water in the attic," said Capt. Mike Austin with the East Niceville Fire Department.

Firefi ghters used three lines to put out the fire. The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but Austin said it looks as if lightning may have struck a nearby tree and jumped to the attic.

Austin said all the contents of the home have water and smoke damage, but he thinks the property is repairable even though part of the roof caved in.

Shortly after the Bluewater Bay fi re, Destin Fire Control District responded to a structure in Kelly Plantation. There was no fi re, but someone reported having seen lightning strike the building. South Walton Fire District was ready to backup the Destin crew.

A fi re in Walton County made the second time in eight days fi refighters from the South Walton Fire District were called to a lightning strike.

South Walton Fire District fi refi ghters responded to a lightning related house fire at 273 E. Mack Bayou Road at approximately 9:25 a.m. on Monday.

Homeowner Kat Mulling, who was home when the fi re started, said lightning struck the back bedroom of the house while she was in another room on the computer. No one else was at home at the time and no injuries were reported.

"I could feel it (the lightning) go right through my fi ngers," she said.

Two neighbors helped Mulling grab personal items and find her cat. Her husband James, who was at work when it happened, was just glad no one was hurt. "It's just God's stuff," he said. SWFD spokesman Sean Hughes said fl ames were coming out of a section of the attic when fi refi ghters arrived. "Crews pulled part of the ceiling down to access the fi re underneath," he said. Hughes said he estimates the damage at $30,000, but does not know the full extent of the damage yet.

"There are some expensive grounding systems you can put in," Hughes said. "I'm not sure how well they work. A lot of times it's just the luck of the draw."

When faced with severe weather, fi refighters still respond. However, their approach may have to be altered. Hughes said sometimes they have to think of a creative way around using a ladder.

"Lightning is roughly one million volts," Hughes said. "If that hits you, there's little you can do. Give us a call and get out."

A fundraising drive has been started for James Mulling by fellow Santa Rosa Beach United Postal Service workers and will accept envelopes with money and checks made out to him.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

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