– by Cary Shuman
John Floyd and his wife, and two of their children, ages 13 and 7, were situated on the first two floors of their home at 41 Hillside Ave. Friday night. The children were watching television on the first floor. Floyd was watching television from his couch on the second floor while his wife was in a nearby computer room.
At about 10:15 p.m., Floyd saw a big flash of light and heard “a very loud, large explosion.”
“It was sort of like someone taking a flash cube in front of your face and taking a picture and you saw dots – that’s how bright the light was,” said Floyd. “And the bang was like someone lit a bomb off in your house.”
That very loud, large explosion was a lightning bolt striking the Floyd home.
“Lightning hit the third floor right above me,” said Floyd, 53. “I ran upstairs and that fire took off like you wouldn’t believe. It screamed across the third floor and spread. I yelled to the kids, ‘get out’ and we all rushed outside where we had a pre-planned meeting place. It was a big fire.”
The Winthrop Fire Department was on the scene in two minutes and contained the fire in cold, wintry conditions.
“It’s very rare in the winter that we have a home struck by lightning,” said Winthrop Fire Chief Paul Flanagan. “But when you have a rapidly developing storm right over your head, you often hear the weathermen refer to thunder snow. It was a very charged atmosphere and there were tremendous flashes of lightning here. We have lightning strikes in the spring that take down chimneys and other things, but most of the time they don’t result in a fire.”
Flanagan said a call came in from the occupant reporting that his house had been struck by lightning and there was a fire.
“There was smoke showing from the third floor of 41 Hillside on arrival,” said Flanagan. “Captain Edward McDonald requested what we call a working fire which automatically brings a Massport engine to the fire. What made it a difficult firefighting effort was that the fire was 50 feet in the air and we had large snowbanks. The first hydrant we hooked up to had a cracked barrel so during the early operation, we were working off tank water and we had barely enough water out of that hydrant.
“The Massport engine came in and laid a new water supply from a hydrant on Shirley Street that came up Crystal Cove Avenue and refed our Engine 2,” said Flanagan.
The chief had high regard for the town manager and the town council for keeping the parking ban in effect. “Operations on the hill were very difficult with the snowbanks, but if we added [parked] cars to the mix, our ability to move apparatus on the hill would have been far more difficult, if not impossible.”
Floyd, whose family has relocated to a relative’s home in the town, said he was grateful to the Winthrop firefighters who bravely rushed into the burning home and quickly knocked down the flames.
“They came in like it was their house,” said Floyd. “They really did. They inquired whether everybody was out and looked for pets. After they got the fire under control, they were putting tarps over our valuables and they saved my wedding pictures and personal things that meant a lot. The firefighters were just incredible.”
Floyd said the third floor of the 120-year-old home was destroyed by the fire. There was also extensive water damage to the lower two floors.
“Basically, I’d say that three-quarters of the house has to be replaced,” said Floyd.
Floyd said he was also grateful to neighbors and friends and personnel at his children’s schools who have offered their support and assistance.
“People have been dropping off cards in the mailbox asking if we need anything,” said Floyd. “A lot of the cards have been from people I don’t know.”
Floyd said he has read about houses being struck by lightning. “Houses get hit all the time but the fact that this incident happened in February is remarkable. Having a fire after the lightning strike compounded the situation.”