Steve Smith was looking out the bedroom window of his Sinagua Heights home Wednesday morning when he saw a flash that forced him to turn his head and sent his dog diving under the bed.
At first, Smith didn’t know what had happened and compared the “bright red-orange light” to a flash bang grenade like he had used when he was in the military.
But soon, all became clear. A thunderstorm over Flagstaff, which dropped a fourth of an inch of rain, brought lightning that appears to have started a fire on the roof of the neighboring home.
The Flagstaff Police and Fire Departments received a call about the fire at 8:29 a.m., said police spokesperson Charles Hernandez.
Arriving on the scene shortly after, Scott Strohmeyer of the fire department said firefighters worked for about half an hour before the blaze was out, and although it did cause “significant” damage to the structure, no one was hurt.
The residents of the home that burned did not want to speak to the press. But Smith said when the lightning first struck, his power went out for roughly 20 seconds.
Then, about 15 minutes later, Smith said he noticed smoke in the air when he let his dog out in the backyard. That’s when Smith said he looked up to see 12-foot-tall flames on the roof of his neighbor’s house.
Immediately calling 911, Smith said he ran to the neighbor’s house to warn them of the fire and get them out of the structure.
Smith said based on the training he received during his time in the Navy and Marines, he believed they may only have minutes to leave, so with the help of a police officer who had arrived, Smith helped his two neighbors exit their home.
Strohmeyer said when the first firefighters arrived on the scene, flames were visible on the roof and in the building’s attic and the home was full of heavy smoke.
Firefighters then entered the home and were able to wrestle three fire hoses inside, Strohmeyer said. They used tools to break through and pull down sections of the ceiling inside the house and began spraying water on the fire, then focused attention on the attic.
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Strohmeyer said the fire had made the roof of the home unstable, so instead of climbing onto the roof and spraying water, firefighters used one of their ladder trucks to douse the flames from above.
Smith said he was extremely impressed by the work and compassion of the firefighters who had put out the blaze.
“The fire department, the police department,” Smith said, “you couldn’t ask for more.”
And Smith said all the neighbors have stepped up to help the victims of the fire. One neighbor is giving them a place to stay while others, including Smith, are storing many of the belongings that survived the fire and have been moved out of the house.
“I think all of us hate what happened to them,” Smith said, visibly affected by the loss his neighbors had suffered. “They’re good people.”
Strohmeyer said it’s pretty uncommon for lightning to cause structure fires this time of year, but during the monsoon season, from about July through August, such fires occur more frequently.
He estimated the department has to put out close to a dozen lightning fires a year, although many of those occur when things like utility poles are struck by lightning and not homes.
More common in November and other colder months are fires caused by wood-burning stoves or fireplaces.
“People may dispose of ashes inappropriately or they haven’t cleaned their chimney,” Strohmeyer said, adding residents shouldn’t worry too much about their home being struck by lightning.
“We [can’t] control the lightning; however, it is advisable for people to take heed of what they can control each year and make sure their smoke detectors are working appropriately,” Strohmeyer said. “Make sure that your fireplaces are cleaned appropriately, and wood stoves are ready.”