Lightning Strikes Connecticut House Twice In One Day; Amazes Firefighters

April 30, 2004
"We had just pulled up and I was putting my air pack on when a second lightning bolt hit," said West Thompson Fire Lt. Mike Rivers.

THOMPSON -- West Thompson Fire Lt. Mike Rivers has been trained to have a healthy respect for the dangers of a lightning bolt.

After his experience Tuesday night, he has an even greater realization of the power and danger of lightning.

Rivers, along with members of his department and two other Thompson fire companies, responded to a call on Reardon Road shortly after 6 p.m. when residents reported their house had been struck by lightning.

"We had just pulled up and I was putting my air pack on when a second lightning bolt hit," Rivers said Wednesday. "A truck from Community (North Grosvenordale) had just pulled up a few seconds before we did and their guys were getting ready to enter the house when the second lightning strike came."

The odds of a person being struck by lightning over the course of an 80-year lifetime is 1 in 3,000; the odds escalate to 1 in 900,000 for a person being struck twice, according to Storm Data, a newsletter of the National Weather Service. For comparison's sake, the odds of picking the winning numbers in Powerball is 1 in 120,526,770.

Rivers said the lightning struck a utility pole near the home at 320 Reardon Road, traveled along the utility wires into the house and blew the electrical meter in the basement off the wall.

"It was like a brilliant white-blue flash of light," Rivers said. "When it hit, it sounded like a very loud explosion; the noise was incredible. Some of the firefighters tried to cover their ears to muffle the sound. I fully expected to turn around and see the house knocked right off its foundation.

"It's amazing nobody was injured," he said.

He said Community Fire Company Lt. Andy Verraneault took a crew from his department into the house and quickly determined there was no fire, although there was a lot of smoke in the basement.

Rivers said the lightning traveled through the house, damaging some walls and knocking items on to the floor before exiting the opposite side of the house.

It then followed an outside underground electric line, slamming through a concrete patio or walkway and a concrete retaining wall that was several inches thick. The lightning dug a trench through the ground that Verraneault estimated was about 21/2 feet wide by about 35 feet long, ricocheted off metal poles in a garden and finally grounded itself in an outdoor well house.

"As bad as the damage was inside, the outside damage was even more amazing," Rivers said. "We looked on the roof, and there were clumps of sod and chunks of concrete all over it. I've never seen anything like this."

The house at 320 Reardon Road is occupied by Ronald Benoit and Rita Gatzke. Benoit was not home when the lightning struck, but Gatzke and two young children were inside. They were unhurt.

They declined to comment, but indicated they are staying with relatives until the damage can be repaired.

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