Lightning ignites attic of Drake Landing home

Okotoks: Multiple buildings, tree hit during storm

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 03:53 pm

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  • Chuck Shields surveys the damage to his Drake Landing home after it was hit with lightning on Aug. 14.
    Chuck Shields surveys the damage to his Drake Landing home after it was hit with lightning on Aug. 14.
    JORDAN VERLAGE/OWW
  • Stu Donaldson points where a lightning bolt struck and splintered his 32 year old mountain ash tree in the backyard of his home on Downey Green.
    Stu Donaldson points where a lightning bolt struck and splintered his 32 year old mountain ash tree in the backyard of his home on Downey Green.
    JORDAN VERLAGE/OWW

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Severe summer storms terrorized Okotoks last week as at least three buildings and one tree was hit with lightning during the evening of Aug 14.

Stuart Donaldson was surprised when he came home and found his maple ash tree in the backyard of his Downey Green house split right down the middle. His neighbour Don Gilbert found splinters from the tree on his deck two doors down.

“I found a piece over by my barbecue. We heard it but we didn’t know what happened, it was so close and we came and checked it out and just saw it, there was debris over by our house,” Gilbert said. “It was an explosion, I’ve never heard anything like that.”

Okotoks Fire Department responded to three lightning related calls during the storm — a business that was struck on McRae Street, a house on Crystal Shores, and a house that was hit in Drake Landing. The first two received no damage, but the Drake Landing home received extensive damage including an attic fire.

Owner Chuck Shields wasn’t home at the time, but his 19-year-old son Spencer was. Shields said his neighbour was watching the storm and saw Shields’ Drake Landing house get hit.

“My neighbour sent a photo three or four seconds after it hit and the house was already starting to smoulder,” Shields said.

Fortunately, another neighbour quickly came over and knocked on the door to alert Spencer to get out of the house, as he was in the basement and hadn’t initially realized the house was on fire.

“He didn’t know because he couldn’t smell anything,” Chuck said. “He did exactly what he was told to do, grabbed the dog and grabbed his phone and was out of the house in 20 seconds.”

The family’s bird was also rescued by firefighters who were on site quickly and were able to contain the fire to the attic. In addition to the fire, the bolt blew out a light in the master bathroom and travelled through the wiring, erupting out of a bar fridge in the basement.

Okotoks Deputy Fire Chief Pat MacIsaac said the department has responded to a few other lightning strikes this summer, and each year it’s something they’ve come to expect.

“I've seen more lightening strikes here in the last year and a half than I've seen in the rest of my career,” MacIsaac said. “Last year about this time we had a number of houses hit as well. We certainly get our fair share of lightning strikes.”

While the Shields family was shaken up after its home was hit, Chuck wanted to thank everyone in the community for being so supportive.

“Everyone came over right away and we had people asking what we needed from all over, a lot of great people,” Chuck Shields said. “People were offering us a place to stay telling us not to book a hotel, people were asking if we needed someone to take care of the dog, a neighbour took care of our cockatiel last night, and people just came over to wish us all best. That’s why we love Okotoks, the people here are so great.”

The family will be out of their home for at least a few weeks while the insurance company deals with the damage, but Shields said the situation definitely could have been worse.

“All we've lost is convenience, but losing convenience isn't a bad thing. We're pretty lucky nobody got hurt, nobody got injured,” he said. “Everybody I know keeps telling me I should go buy a lottery ticket.”

If your home is hit by lightning, Okotoks Fire Department recommends calling 911 so it can do a thorough check, as smouldering fires can ignite along your home’s wiring and go unnoticed.


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