Getting Answers: lightning strikes cause two devastating fires

Two fires in two different towns in Massachusetts destroyed two structures on Friday.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 3:16 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT
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(WGGB/WSHM) - Two fires in two different towns in Massachusetts destroyed two structures on Friday. The one thing both fires had in common: both were caused by lightning strikes. Two structure fires caused by lightning in one weekend are rare, but fire officials told us these types of fires happen more often than you think and, under the right conditions, a stray bolt of lightning could have your house up in flames in minutes.

J and J Farms in Amherst and the First Congregational Church in Spencer went up in flames after both structures were struck by lightning. Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson told Western Mass News that by the time his crews responded to the call from J and J Farms, one of the barns was completely engulfed in flames.

“It was fully engulfed in the radiant heat from that was what set the other barn,” Nelson explained.

We spoke with Captain David Rex with the Holyoke Fire Department. He told Western Mass News that the dry conditions, paired with the ignition from the lightning strike, meant these fires started fast and hot.

“That lightning is like that ignition point. Older structures are definitely going to be more dried out, so it’s going to be a lot easier for them to light up. Lightning is instant. I think within four minutes of the lightning strike in Spencer, they already had the attic full of smoke,” Rex said.

We asked Rex if there are any preventive measures people can use to keep lightning from striking their houses. Rex noted that there’s nothing you can do about it.

“The lightning strike itself, it’s going to happen. It is what it is. They’re going to strike where they strike,” Rex explained.

Rex added that while you can’t prevent a lightning strike on your home, there are ways to protect yourself.

“The part where you can help yourself is working smoke detectors, paying attention to the weather that’s going on. If something does happen in the home, getting out of the home and trying to get police and fire rolling,” Rex said.

Rex also said not to use corded phones to call 911 if lightning hits your house. He says the cords can generate electricity and potentially shock you.