The Block Island Times
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Multiple lightning strikes on Block Island

By Stephanie Turaj | Jul 05, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Members of the Block Island Volunteer Fire Department respond to the lightning strike at Salt Pond Settlement on Friday, June 28. The strike damaged several apartments.

It was a stormy morning on Block Island last Friday. A thunderstorm shook the island and lightning struck various structures between 7 and 7:30 a.m., resulting in two fires.

One bolt of lightning started a fire in the attic of The Salt Pond Settlement, a condo complex located on West Side Road. Another bolt hit the turret atop the Harbor Baptist Church on Water Street, resulting in a small fire that was extinguished by the rain, according to fire and rescue officials. Several more flashes struck various buildings across town, some causing equipment damage. (See Martha Ball’s column on page 5.)

“We were out and multiple alarms were coming in at once,” said Fire Chief Tristan Payne. “We’re just happy that no one got hurt.”

Lightning struck the Salt Pond roof above unit B1 around 7:30 a.m., and started the fire. Payne said the building’s sprinkler system “knocked down the initial flames.” Payne estimated that it took the crew about 5 to 7 minutes to extinguish the remaining fire.

“That could have been a lot worse,” said Payne. “There was a gas line in the attic space that the lightning struck close to.”

Rick Collins, the Settlement’s current property manager, said that “it was remarkable, the performance of the Fire Department and how professional they were.”

Collins, who was in the building at the time of the lightning strike, said that all residents, especially condo association president Ray Paparian, pitched in to help. Nobody was present in unit B1 at the time of the lightning strike, but a person in the neighboring unit, B2, had called him to tell him there was the smell of smoke.

There was smoke and water damage from the sprinkler units to the Salt Pond Settlement. Five units, Collins said, were “greatly affected,” and another two units were “minimally affected.”

Apartments B1, B2, A1, A2 and C1 were dripping with water that had a smokey scent, and several of the apartments reeked of smoke. Ceilings were browned with water damage, and carpets and floors were soaked. Many mattresses and couches were ruined — apartment A1 had buckets to catch the dripping water, but there was still a flood of water on the floor.

In the days following the fire, a contractor called SmokeClean began repairs to the units. Starting that Friday evening, the company brought in large fans and equipment to dehumidify the units and remove mold. Then the demolition began, with ceilings, floors and even walls being torn apart.

Prior to the Salt Pond Settlement fire, around 7:03 a.m., the fire crew responded to a call at the Harbor Baptist Church, but the fire had been put out by the rain, said Payne.

In addition, Payne said that there were two recorded lightning strikes on Corn Neck Road that resulted in alarms. The Hygeia House inn also was hit, resulting in electrical problems that were later sorted out, said Payne. He also added that the police building was struck, which resulted in some lost equipment.

Rescue Squad Captain Bryan Wilson said that there were no injuries from the calls that morning.

“We had a very good turnout — lots of responsible people,” said Wilson. He estimated that about two to three dozen people showed up for the call at the Salt Pond Settlement. He said anyone in the settlement after the incident was evacuated.

Payne said that damaging storms such as this one seem to be happening more often. “The weather systems are definitely a pattern,” he said. “They seem to be more intense.”

Harbor Baptist Church Pastor Steve Hollaway described the lightning strike in an email to The Block Island Times. “The turret of the church was struck by lightning, blasting a hole in the turret as if a cannonball struck and knocking shingles and wood debris to the ground. There was smoke where the lightning hit,” Hollaway said. “The alarm system did not go off; neither did the sprinklers. (Thank God.)”

Reporter Stephanie Turaj was renting one of the Salt Pond Settlement units affected by the water damage. She was not present at the time of the lightning strike.

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