St. Petersburg Times--North Pinellas

Lightning sets fire in attic

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times
published July 15, 2003

SAFETY HARBOR - Ray Crego saw the storm coming Monday afternoon, so he abandoned his window-washing and went inside his Safety Harbor home to play on the computer.

He heard the rumbling getting closer. Then, as his hand touched his mouse pad, he felt electricity crawl up his arm.

"I could feel the current go right up my arm," Crego said. "The hair on my arms stood up."

His computer and television went out. Then he smelled smoke. He looked around, but couldn't find the source of the odor. Then he saw flames and smoke work their way through his wall.

He called 911. He said the Safety Harbor Fire Department was at his home, 215 N Bay Hills Blvd., within five minutes. When fire crews arrived about 4 p.m., they noted smoke was pushing out of the eaves. The inside of the home also had a light vapor of smoke, said Deputy Chief Philip Vozza.

Vozza said it appears the fire was caused by a lightning strike. Using a thermal imaging device, crews pinpointed the fire near the chimney. They pulled down portions of ceiling and found the fire in the trusses. They were able to contain it to the area above the family room and had the flames extinguished in less than 20 minutes.

"The fire companies made a good, quick stop on an attic fire, which are typically hard to locate and contain," Vozza said.

Safety Harbor crews also were assisted by units from Clearwater and Palm Harbor, he said.

Crego said he didn't know how much damage the fire caused, though a Fire Department preliminary estimate put damage at about $10,000.

Crego said the breaker for the air conditioner was out early Monday evening. If he could get that working to clear out the smoky smell, he planned to stay the night at the house. If not, he would go to a hotel