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Fire from lightning strike displaces group home residents

POSTED: July 7, 2014 8:11 p.m.
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Fire from lightning strike displaces group home residents

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A late June fire has displaced several residents of a group home.

The developmentally-disabled residents of the Volunteers of America’s Deer Road group home in Springfield returned from a dinner out to find firefighters trying to quell a blaze.

Springfield Fire Chief Travis Zittrouer said the June 24 fire likely started when the house was hit by lightning. The lightning then traveled down a metal pipe.

“It ran down to the ground floor and smoldered there for a while,” the chief said.

The home’s residents had gone out to eat about 8:30 that night and returned shortly after firefighters began to battle the flames. The three-bedroom home was a total loss, the chief said.

“Ninety percent of their belongings are gone,” Zittrouer said. “We saved a few things. If they had been home, they might have caught it in time.”

Zittrouer said the fire department performs safety walk-throughs every year at the home, giving the residents and home operators safety tips, and there are annual evacuation drills.

“They are very aware of how to be safe,” he said.

Lightning strikes on houses, especially during the summer, are common, Zittrouer said.

“Homes today have PVC pipes. They are non-conductive,” Zittrouer said. “But that house had metal piping.”

The residents were housed in a local hotel temporarily, and Zittrouer said the organization has protocols in place for such an event.

Zittrouer said during the summer the department responds to a lightning strike on a home about once a week. They had three such calls in June in Springfield.

“It’s about 50-50 whether the house catches on fire,” he said.

One recent lightning strike didn’t result in a full-fledged fire but it melted the nail heads in studs, Zittrouer said.

Lightning strikes also can set off home alarms, and the city has adopted a false alarm ordinance.

“With the weather, we don’t count that against them,” the chief explained. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Volunteers of America has operated the Deer Road home for 16 years and also acquired a house on Chestnut Street to establish a second location for four people. The group had filed a discrimination suit against the city in July 2012 and wanted to move its Deer Road residents to the Chestnut Street locale while the Deer Road home was repaired. The state approved the Deer Road site as a group home for four people with developmental disabilities in February 2011.

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