Lightning lights up wiring, causes two house fires

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Just before 4 p.m. Monday, lightning hit a pine tree in the north part of Washington Parish. In an instant, the electric charge split the pine in two. Energy surged through the root system, tossing up soil and burning leaves before it smashed into Allen Seals’ home.

After lightning struck near Allen Seals’ home Monday, fire ripped through the home, destroying everything. In addition, wires—possibly telephone wires—carried the energy to his brother’s home, and fire destroyed that home, too.

After lightning struck near Allen Seals’ home Monday, fire ripped through the home, destroying everything. In addition, wires—possibly telephone wires—carried the energy to his brother’s home, and fire destroyed that home, too.

Chunks of the concrete slab blew off the home. Then the home caught fire.

Allen’s home is on his family’s 60-acre property in the northern part of the parish. Down a dirt lane is his father William Seals’ house and down another driveway, a whole half-mile away from Allen’s home, is his brother, Aaron Seals’ trailer home.

A telephone line connected the homes until Monday evening, when that line carried fire.

After the lightning strike carried its energy from the pine roots to Allen’s home, William said he believes the energy found the telephone line, and that’s why his telephone connection outside his home exploded. When it reached Aaron’s home, William said he believes the electricity met something combustible and caused a fire there.

Everything happened in an instant.

Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Brant Thompson, the man who investigated the fire, didn’t confirm exactly how a lightning strike could have caused a house fire a half-mile away, but he said a telephone line or an electrical line could have served as a conduit.

“Anything that can serve is a conduit to electricity or energy brought about by a lightening strike certainly can travel through those types of objects,” he said. “Those electrical lines are designed to serve as a conduit.”

When lightning touched down, the younger Seals men and their wives were at work. William and his wife were home, however.

William said he knew a bad storm was in the area. He and his wife had just returned home, and they’d passed a downed oak tree. At five minutes to 4 p.m. — he just looked at his watch — he turned on his television to catch the news.

Maybe there’s a tornado nearby, he thought. Maybe they’d get a warning on television.

Instead, what he saw, through his rear French doors, was “a 10-foot ball of fire.”

His telephone box had just exploded from the side of his brick home.

“It blew all the phone boxes off the house,” he said. “It was no joke. It was big.”

About that time, he said his wife noticed smoke coming from their son’s trailer.

“The whole living room was already on fire,” William said.

Aaron’s home, the trailer, is separated from his father’s home by only a grassy field and a driveway. Allen’s home is in the rear, separated by a hill and a dense thicket of trees. Nobody thought to check that home until much later.

William said he called the fire department even as he raced to his son’s house to rip what he could off the porches — two wooded porches, just completed Saturday. William said Stateline, Thomas and Pine firefighters responded within minutes. William praised the firefighters and their response time, but it was too late. The trailer was gone.

It was the firefighters who noticed the smoke coming from the woods. By then, it was too late.

“Both the house and the house trailer was a total loss,” Aaron said.

No people were injured from the fires. But, William said, two Yorkshire terrier dogs died in the home Allen shared with his wife.

“They cried like babies, because they can’t have any babies,” said William. “These Yorkie dogs were their kids.”

William said both his sons had insurance on their homes.

In the meantime, William said area churches have been helping out, and he’s thankful for that.

“We’ve had three churches bring stuff and money,” he said.

Those churches are the Briarwood Baptist Church, the Forest Haven Missionary Baptist Church and the Stateline Missionary Baptist Church.

“They’ve been so good,” William said. “They brought money and food and clothes, you name it, they loaded down my house over here and I’d like to thank them very much for the love they’ve shown.”

On Tuesday morning, Aaron said he didn’t know yet what he and his family or his brother’s family might need. He was at work, and had not had time to go through the donations.

“I really don’t know right now,” he said. “I really don’t know. Gift cards from stores to get clothes and things, but I really don’t know at this point. I know we’ve lost everything from where we go from here I just don’t really know.”

Rev. Eric Williams, the pastor of Briarwood Baptist Church said anyone in the area could drop off donations with him.

“We’ll make sure we get it to them,” he said. “That will be fine.”

He also suggested dropping off items at William’s house, which is located at 55209 Highway 424.