Lightning Strike to Propane Tank Starts N.C. House Fire

July 18--The residence of James and Doris Mauney of New London caught fire on Tuesday due to lightning from a severe thunderstorm that rolled through Stanly County. The house is a half-mile north of North Stanly High School at 40296 U.S. Highway 52.

Initially, the fire departments of New London and Richfield-Misenheimer were dispatched when the call came into the Stanly 911 Communications center at 5:19 p.m. of a possible lightning strike to a propane tank. Bethany VFD arrived several minutes later.

Upon arriving at the scene, firefighters determined that lightning had struck a tree near the tank, according to Stanly County Fire Marshal Michael Roark. After turning off the propane tank, there was still smoke in the residence and firefighters searched the house, but could not find anything.

However, as the smoke continued to build in the dining room, the responders discovered heavy smoke was coming from a heating vent in the floor of the dining room.

Without any basement or crawl space, firefighters were forced to cut a hole in the floor and discovered a "significant" fire under the house, Roark said.

"What we believe happened is that when the lightning struck the tree, the current went through the roots of the tree and picked up the service line from the propane tank to the house," Roark said.

Roark said the service line ran under the house and into the gas cooking range in the kitchen.

"Because of the current and the pressure created, the electricity found a weak point in the propane line and breached the line," Roark said.

"When the line was breached, the propane came out, and because the line was electrically charged, the leaking propane ignited."

The fire marshal said the whole process of the propane line igniting was "instantaneous."

At the time, Mrs. Mauney and her grandson were in the house, with Mr. Mauney somewhere outside the house.

The family heard the lightning strike, noticed the smell of propane inside the house and called 911.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the house suffered damage from the smoke and the efforts by firefighters to put out the fire. The only actual burning of the house, according to Roark, was to the floor joists.

As of press time, the dollar amount of damage done to the house had not been determined.

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