Lightning strikes house in Airpark
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:00 AM
More than 20 firefighters battled one of the largest house fires the Philadelphia Fire Department has ever fought early Monday after a lightning strike in the Airpark subdivision, as bolts of lightning continued to flash, thunder boomed and heavy rains fell.
Philadelphia firefighters, during a thunderstorm, battle a blaze caused by a lightning strike in Airpark early Monday.
Smoke was so intense that one firefighter, in full turnout gear, fell into the swimming pool and had to be helped out.
No injures were reported in the 1:20 a.m. blaze at the Chuck McClain residence in Airpark on the eastern side of the city. The house was damaged extensively.
"At this point, we don't know it if will be ruled a total loss or not," McClain said Tuesday afternoon.
The McClains, awake at the time, heard the lightning strike and were able to get out of the house.
Chuck McClain found it hard to describe in words the sound he heard when lightning struck.
"I told Kim [his wife] that I was afraid lightning had hit our house," he said.
McClain said he initially searched inside the house for any sign of damage.
"After I couldn't find any sign inside, I walked outside and I smelled smoke," he said.
The lightning hit on the eastern peak of the house above the attic, he said.
"I saw flames coming out. I hustled back in to get Kim and the dog out of the house and called 911."
While he had been through many thunderstorms, McClain said he knew immediately that something was different about this one.
"Instead of a flash and thunder, this included a pop impact. I just knew it hit the house," he said, noting that the sound was hard to describe.
Deputy Fire Chief Steve Thomas said the police department arrived on scene first and reported flames going through the roof.
"When the first fire truck arrived, the kitchen and carport were involved in flames," Thomas said. "The fire extended to an upstairs bedroom.
"Generally, fires caused by lightning are the hardest to put out because when it strikes it sets so much on fire at one time."
The fire was the first time a relatively new ladder truck has been used to fight a fire.
"It was instrumental in controlling and eventually extinguishing the blaze," Thomas said. "It was an essential part."
At one point, while firefighters were battling the blaze, a large bolt of lightning flashed across the sky followed by a large, thunderous boon a few seconds later as rain continued to pour. Firefighters visibly flinched.
McClain was able to remove their vehicles from the attached garage.
A golf cart was destroyed by the blaze.
The fire was so intense and lasted so long that several firefighters had to take breathers at various intervals while fighting the fire at the 7,200-square-foot home.
Deputy Chief Thomas said that because of the severity of the blaze the firemen had to use more water than normal.
"We used two hydrants and two lines off of each," he said. "Typically we only use one hydrant with a single line coming off of it.
"We used more this time because of the volume of water needed to put out the fire."
Firefighters also had to climb onto the roof with chainsaws to cut through the roof as flames spread further into the home.
The McClains expressed their appreciation to the city including the fire, police and utility departments for their quick response.
"They responded as quickly as they could," Chuck McClain said.
"Five minutes seem like five hours when you see your house burning. They did all they could."
The McClains also thanked their friends and relatives who have "reached out to us at this time with their help and support."