WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A single-family residence at 41 John St. was heavily damaged by fire early Saturday morning after a lightning bolt apparently bounced off a nearby pine tree and struck the roof. It was the second time in as many years that the town's suffered a devastating strike.
The renovated attic space of the home, owned by Robert Crosky, was gutted by flames as firefighters battled the blaze for an hour and a half in a downpour before getting it under control.
Chief Craig Pedercini takes pictures of the scene. Right, the tree that was struck is close to the house.
"We made a couple of advances but we were pushed back," said Fire Chief Craig Pedercini early Saturday afternoon, as he stood next a pile of personal items and sopping insulation in the back yard. "We had to take a defensive mode and hit it heavy from the outside."
The difficulty in accessing the third floor was compounded by the home's configuration; lots of hose had to be hauled up stairs and down hallways. On the third try, firefighters were able to get into the area and contain the blaze.
"The guys did a great job — from here, from Pownal, from Clarksburg — as far as I'm concerned," said Pedercini.
The Clarksburg and Pownal, Vt., fire departments were called in for mutual aid, a standard practice for structure fires. The Stamford, Vt., Fire Department covered the Clarksburg station.
The big cracking boom over Williamstown could be heard from Pownal to Clarksburg, waking many from slumber at about 3 a.m.
It woke Pedercini out of a sound sleep. He said all he could think was "I hope that didn't hit anything." But minutes later, the reports came in of a fire at the corner of John and Manning streets, a dense neighborhood. By the time firefighters arrived, flames were coming through the roof.
Crosky was home alone; his wife and two children were out of town. Pedercini said Crosky told him he was wakened by the boom and went into the hallway and saw ceiling plaster on the floor and flames peeking through a hole in the ceiling. He immediately called 911.
Pedercini didn't want to speculate on the cost of the damage, other than to say it would be significant. The third floor's two bedrooms and a bathroom were destroyed, large sections of roof are gone and the downstairs was heavily damaged.
"There was a tremendous amount of water damage and some smoke damage," said Pedercini. "It's going to be a total renovation."
The 80-foot pine outside the front door was scarred by the lightning but didn't appear otherwise damaged, although Pedericini said he's suggested the homeowner have it checked. The family's pet dog and bird also survived the blaze.
Crosky was busy with an insurance adjuster and figuring out what he and his family were going to do next. "I have to find where we're going to live for now."
In August 2008, a bolt of lightning hit the hay barn at Bonnie Lea Farm, burning it to the ground; two horses had been killed lightning there in 2005. A month before that, a strike barely missed a home on Pine Cobble Road, taking out the backyard swing set instead.
"It's devastating. We leave but the homeowner still has to deal with this," said Pedercini. "But you know, the communities ... just come together and offer their assistance."
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At right, the bolt left a large scar nearly three-quarters of the way up the tree.