Luckie Street Fire
Davis Brothers Restaurant
Atlanta, GA

Donna H. Bowman, Journalist  

As a newspaper journalist and columnist Donna enjoyed covering a variety of topics. Here is one of her favorite articles written during her two year term as a journalist. This article is fire related--with lightning safety tips. 

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Donna H. Bowman, Journalist 
Human Interest

Dawson Community News

BOLTS OF FIRE

Georgia summers produce humid, hot afternoons. Storms bubble-up and often spark light shows more dramatic than the fourth-of-July. The hurricane season has also begun, which adds to our severe weather. Does your family know where to seek safety? One summer spawned a North Georgia event that adversely affected many homeowners. The following are true accounts of events as they unfolded, as well as reminders of important safety tips. (See Tips, Trips and Titles Column for more information.)

Radar reveals a red line of storms. “This isn’t going to be good,” the Fire Chief says narrowing his eyes.  

Lightning bolts – five times hotter than the sun – explode! I duck my head. Thunder shakes the house, rattling windows. “That hit nearby!” Chief says, concerned. He raises the volume on his fire-radio to override the loud storm and steps outside to the covered, brick porch. Waves of rain pour. Lightning strikes in every direction. He studies cloud and lightning behavior, then comes back inside for safety. (Contrary to urban myths, his rubber-soled shoes will not offer protection from the 50,000˚ bolts of lightning.)

An alarm is ‘toned-out’. The 911 dispatcher keys his microphone, “…lightning struck a house...flames are visible.”   

Firefighters are on the scene in minutes. A mans’ voice is elevated, “We have heavy smoke and flames! Engine ten pull up behind us and catch that hydrant.”  

“Two-car MVA [motor vehicle accident] south bound on…” a loud ‘POW’, crack and extended rumble interrupt the dispatcher. He announces repeated calls for help throughout the county.  

The chief steps into heavy boots and pulls up his thick, fireproof pants. It’s hot and muggy. I glance at the digital thermometer…91˚! The red suspenders snap his shoulders.  

“A car’s submerged on Mathis Airport Road. The driver’s on top of the vehicle.  Water’s rising!”   

Another voice yells, “Fire’s rolling out windows on the B - C corner! Advance your [water] lines!” The severe storm shows no mercy.  

Bright flashes abruptly alter numerous lives. Lightning’s shock waves reverberate through thunder…and emotions. Off-duty firefighters are called in. Multiple houses are in flames. Putting their own lives in grave danger, the firefighters climb tall metal ladders and grip water hoses…even with intense lightning smacking close by.  

A long zipping sound seals my husbands’ padded, yellow coat. He tucks his radio into a deep pocket. Beep; beep…“Chief Bowman!  We’re running out of firefighters and equipment!”

“Dawson and Alpharetta are sending more engines. [Deputy Chief] Clark’s responding to the last structure, I’m headed to this one.” His voice is steady and serious.
 
He gives me a quick good-bye kiss beneath his white helmet. I toss a cold bottle of water to his gloved hands, “Be careful.”  

“Stay inside. Love you!” he yells, dashing into the storm. His steel-bottomed boots splash the wet pavement with solid thumps as he runs to the car. At least a dozen homes have been struck within minutes. Six, simultaneously, are on fire! His red lights flash and sirens blare…before fading to the sound of the pouring rain.  

Endless flashes, carrying 100 million volts of electricity, light the town and leave darkness in their wake. Red Cross temporarily relocates many victims.  

The next morning, several families rise to a sunny, summer day in unfamiliar surroundings. They return to assess damage. A family with a child finds a circle of charred earth surrounding what was once their home. Bushes are scorched. Ancient trees are black on one side, green on the other, all the way up to the sky. The grey skeleton of a brand-new vehicle sits on tireless rims. Windows have melted away revealing bare metal seats.  

The left half of the house has two walls standing; no roof. Few belongings are recognizable: a melted, toy truck, and a black, warped, ironing board. The stench of burnt wood is overbearing. The rest of the now window-less house is charcoal black throughout. The floor is covered with a thick layer of wet ash. Blue sky and sun, shines through large openings in the unstable roof.  

Just yesterday, they lived comfortably inside. Freshly washed clothes were laid neatly in dressers displaying treasured photos. They laughed, licked orange popsicles and stacked toy blocks. In the cool air-conditioning they sat on a soft couch watching news. News of a storm coming.  

The family hugs each other, numb from the devastating loss yet thankful to have survived.

Within three hours lightning struck Forsyth County 1,730 times that day. Lightning is electricity seeking the path of least resistance. It strikes somewhere on Earth 50-100 times every second.  

•    Interested in precautions? Benjamin Franklin’s kite helped him invent lightning rods which continue to protect homes today. Lightning rods disburse electrical surges into the ground. Lightning rods do not attract lightning, but if a home is struck, the current is intercepted and safely redirected. Lightning rods are connected to grounding rods which disburse the surge into the ground. Grounding rods eight feet or longer are most effective. Professional lightning protection systems are costly; references are recommended.   

•    Would your family be safe sheltering under a tree during a storm? No! Lightning can travel down the tree, through people, to the ground. TAG – YOU’RE IT! If you’re outside, remain low — lay down if necessary to become the lowest object in your area. The safest place is inside, away from windows. Lightning can also travel along pipes, power lines and telephone lines, so stay clear of water pipes, and phones with cords.  

•    How far away is safe? Lightning can strike objects ten miles from an active storm; the longest flash measured was 120 miles long, in Texas. The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends: “If you see it, flee it!  If you hear it, clear it!” In the U.S. lightning injures an average of 300 people annually and kills 93 more.   

Forsyth County’s firefighters were stretched to the extreme during the fires on August 13, 2005. They fought Mother Nature seamlessly with adjoining counties. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported and fires were stopped before spreading to neighboring houses. Brave firefighters are trained, equipped and ready. We’re all better prepared when we’re aware of the dangers.


More Information
Vaisala, Inc.–National Lightning Detection Network
Lightning Protection Institute 
National Lightning Safety Institute 

Credits
Lightning photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library '05; Photographer C. Clark
Lightning data and visual map provided by Vaisala, Inc. 

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