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Lightning strike possible cause of Denver fire

Denver firefighters were called to a home in the new Pebble Bay subdivision a week ago this past Sunday. (Left photo) Neighbor Ron Zarski captured the raging housefire from his residence next door. (Right photo) Fire officials said last week that lightning striking a tree appeared to be a cause of the fire that totally destroyed the unoccupied residence. Jon Mayhew / LTN Photo

Occasionally, firefighters have to battle a housefire once every several days.
For firefighters in Denver, however, Saturday and Sunday, May 13 – 14, marked an unfortunate milestone for the department: three working structure fire calls in less than 12 hours.
“It’s the first time in the department’s history we had calls like that,” said Denver Fire Department chief Jay Flynn. “We worked from 10 p.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday.”
He added 16 of the department’s firefighters worked all three calls, putting a strain on the department’s resources.
Last Tuesday, Flynn said the biggest of the three fires – an unoccupied home in the Pebble Bay neighborhood – may have been caused by a lightning strike that happened early Sunday, May 14.
Firefighters responded to 6802 Pebble Bay Drive around 4 a.m. to find the residence fully engulfed in flames.
Jeff Curtis, who lives next door to the house, said he heard popping sounds in his bedroom around that time.
“It sounded like rain falling off the trees,” said Curtis. “When I finally opened my eyes, my bedroom was illuminated with bright light.”
Curtis said as the fire raged, embers flew across his property and home. He tried using a garden hose but discovered he didn’t have any water.
“Lightning struck across the road earlier in the night and took out my neighbor’s water meter,” he said, adding he noticed flames from the fire shooting over the top of the trees.
Less than seven minutes after a 911 call came from the Curtis residence, the first Denver fire units arrived on the scene.
According to Chief Flynn, firefighters knew once they arrived the main goal was protection of surrounding homes.
“By the time we got there, parts of the roof already collapsed,” he said.
Flynn added the house was a massive 4,000-square-foot, two-story residence with a large attic and crawl space.
Firefighters had to use eight pumpers and three tankers to provide water in fighting the fire since there weren’t any hydrants in the neighborhood.
“We’re trained to fight fires in situations just like this and situations where hydrants are available,” said Flynn.
Mutual aid was provided by Sherrills Ford/Terrell Fire and Rescue; Pumpkin Center Fire Department; East Lincoln Fire Department; Bandys Crossroads Fire Department; and Gilead Fire Department. Sherrills Ford/Terrell firefighters were stationed at DFD and held on standby.
Flynn, Curtis, and his neighbor, Tammy Zarski, confirmed lightning storms passed through the area earlier that morning.
“My power didn’t go out, but we had about four or five intense lightning strikes,” said Curtis. “It really shook up my family.”
Zarski said her power went out during the lightening.
When the storms passed around 12:30 a.m., her husband, Ron, went out to the couple’s pool and reset the pool pump.
“He noticed the foyer light and doorbell light were off in the house next door,” she said. “Firefighters told me that a power surge knocked out our electricity. It didn`t even occur to me there was a power surge.”
Curtis said firefighters assured him his home was safe. Zarski said she knew her home was out of harm`s way.
While both said the entire experience was frightening, they both praised the quick and hard work of the Denver Fire Department.
“They did good,” said Curtis. “They were very calm and professional.”
Both Curtis and Zarski said they were sad about the turn of events in their neighborhood, citing the house had been on the market since they both relocated to Denver in June.
“Even though no one lived there, you feel a sense of mourning,” said Zarski. “It`s so sad.”
Firefighters had the fire under control in less than three hours.
Lincoln County Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Summers said when lightning strikes, it travels around looking for a place that is grounded.
“It looks for the path of least resistance,” he said.
The third call brought firefighters to the Curtis Whistlehunt residence on 6591 Lineberger Road around 9 a.m., less than an hour after clearing the scene of the Pebble Bay fire.
Flynn said when firefighters arrived, they observed heavy smoke coming from the residence.
“Four people were in the residence at the time of the fire,” said Flynn. “All of them got out safely.”
Damage to the residence was contained to the master bedroom and bathroom. Flynn said cigarette ashes on clothing may have started that fire.
Flynn added the Linberger Road and Campground Road fires would be ruled accidental.
In that fire, Stevie Spencer spent part of that Saturday evening painting his residence at the corner of Dick Wilson and Campground Road.
Around 10 p.m., he decided to smoke a cigarette and take a break, putting the bowl of paint thinner on a coffee table. After smoking, he tossed the cigarette into the bowl.
“I forgot paint thinner was there,” said Spencer. “I thought it was water.”

For more information on Denver Fire Department activity, visit the Web site: www.denvervfd.com.
by Jon Mayhew

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