BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – A lightning strike is responsible for a fire that ended with the total loss of a family home in Blue Ridge.
The Fannin County Fire Department was dispatched to a call of a reported lightning strike shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, May 31. After stepping out the door of Fire Station 1 in downtown Blue Ridge, Fire Chief Larry Thomas quickly realized that the reported lightning strike had resulted in a fire.
Smoke was seen from downtown Blue Ridge bellowing high into the air quickly turning from a light gray smoke to a deep black.
“Black smoke is what you get from house fires,” Thomas explained of the sight from downtown Blue Ridge. “The synthetic materials that make up a home and that are found in a home will account for this.”
Thomas described pulling up to the scene of the fire: “We arrived less than 10 minutes after dispatch and found the house 40 to 50 percent involved with flames that had already vented through the roof.”
When arriving on the scene, crews were able to move three vehicles near the structure. These vehicles are known as exposures.
Exposures are potentials for a fire resulting from another fire outside of the primary building, structure, or vehicle. In this case crews identified the vehicles as having a potential for resulting in a secondary hazard and were able to remove them safely.
Firefighters were also able to protect a nearby garage and two other vehicles from becoming part of the inferno.
The home located on Wild Iris Trail belongs to the Tankersley family, owners of Willow Creek Falls and Vineyard. While the family was not physically harmed during the fire, it has been confirmed that some of their beloved pets were unable to escape.
Despite time-saving tactics and added water supply, fire fighters were unable to save the home, and it was deemed a total loss.
While the weather of the evening aided in containing the fire to the structure, it also combated efforts to save the home itself.
Thomas stated the rains helped to keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding terrain, but the steady winds that accompanied the storms progressed the fire through the home.
“The wind would shift direction and that affected the high fire. It would actually force the fire back into and down through the attic space,” Thomas said, explaining how the fire spread, “and then the low fire was just eating its way in on the ground.”
The fire began as a result of a lightning strike to a nearby tree. The electricity from the strike moved through the roots of the tree where it made contact with underground utilities, and moved into the home.
Fires resulting from lightning strikes are seen annually in our area. Most notably seen in recent times, the Cohutta Wilderness Wildfire destroyed thousands of acres and lasted several months in late 2016.
“Lightning doesn’t have to hit your house to start the fire,” Thomas explained of the nature of fires caused by lightning. “It can strike anything nearby, a tree or utilities. It can then travel through the tree roots or underground lines, anything that conducts electricity, and reach the home.”
Firefighters responded to a second call of a lightning strike-induced fire on the evening of May 31. This strike had moved through a gas line connecting to a home. The homeowner in this case was able to shut off the gas supply and extinguish the fire before major damage was done.
“The best thing people can do, is just stay vigilant during these storms,” Thomas said as he acknowledged the unpredictability of storms and lightning in general.
Crews were on the scene of the house fire on Wild Iris Trail for approximately seven hours. A total of 22 firefighters helped to combat the blaze. Medics, as well as members of the Fannin County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), were also present to provide emergency personnel with rehabilitation services such as oxygen and a dry area. Fannin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to direct traffic.
[Featured image: The home located on Wild Iris Trail as fire fighters worked to battle the blaze.]
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