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September 12. 2013 1:23PM

Wild afternoon for lightning in southern New Hampshire


Kristi Arford, 41, of Derry stands near the base a tree that was split after lightning struck close her house at 5 Lawrence Road. Awford said she feels lucky to be alive after lightning struck near her Wednesday, sending her to the ground. (HUNTER McGEE)

Fire crews from over a half-dozen southern New Hampshire towns responded to a three-alarm fire at 32 Hawthorne Road in Windham early Thursday afternoon. The home, believed to have been struck by lightning, sustained heavy fire and smoke damage on its upper levels, though no one was home when the fire broke out. (APRIL GUILMET)


A garage at a Bedford home burns after being struck by lightning Thursday afternoon.

Strong thunderstorms dropped three-quarter-inch hail in Hampstead and heavy rain across parts of the state Thursday.

A three-alarm house fire at 32 Hawthorne Road, Windham, is believed to have been caused by a lightning strike, according to Windham fire chief Tom McPherson. The fire started around 12:30 and brought firefighters from several towns, including Derry, Pelham and Salem. McPherson said it was too early to tell if lightning caused the fire, but that appeared a possible cause. One firefighter was taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion, he said.
In Barrington, lightning is suspected of causing a fire in an underground propane tank at 42 Hearthside Drive, according to the fire department. The fire was contained to the tank, which is separate from the residence, authorities said.

In Derry, a woman reported being thrown to the ground after lightning struck near her. Kristi Arford said she feels grateful to be alive after lightning struck near her Thursday afternoon during a thunderstorm, sending her to the ground.
"I thought I was going to die and my daughter was going to come home from school and find me dead," Arford said, who lives on Lawrence Road.

Arford said she was at the rear of her house, trying to bring her dog "Biscuit" in from the storm. She said she was touching the metal door when the lightning struck near the front of the house.

"I saw the bright flash of light and I just felt a shock all through my body," and it made me fall to the ground," she said.

After regaining her strength, Arford said she called 911 and rescue personnel responded. She said her heart was racing but she later recovered and didn't need to be transported to the hospital.

"I think I'll go play the lottery now, because maybe I'm lucky," she said with a chuckle.

A base of a tree near the front of her house was split and bark and other debris was strewn across the yard.

In Richmond, a lighting strike caused a basement fire on Bullock Street shortly after noon.

"It was a lighting strike that struck outside on the lawn and made a hole in the ground," said Police Chief Brendan Bosquet.

The hole in the ground is about a foot and half in diameter and about a foot deep, Bosquet said. The lighting struck about six feet from the house at 170 Bullock Road.

The electric charge traveled through the ground and appears to have made contact with the dryer vent.

The dryer was not running, Bosquet said, but the electricity traveled through the vent and caused a fire in the basement, in the insulation and the area around the vent.

"The homeowner was home at the time so he could smell smoke and ended up putting out the fire with a garden hose," Bosquet said. "He smelled smoke after he heard the big crack of the lightning strike, then he went down there to do something, then he smelled it and then he could see it."

Swanzey, Winchester and Royalston, Mass., firefighters responded with Richmond firefighters and tore out the burned insulation and had the electricity turned off temporarily.

A house next-door was also struck but did not catch fire, Bosquet said.


PSNH reported more than 14,000 homes and businesses without power around 3:30 p.m. The outages were spread over more than 40 communities mainly in the southern tier. Outages included 2,541 customers in Manchester and 3,495 in Rochester.
 
Statewide, more than 14,000 power companies were without power.
"It's a bit of an anomaly to see this kind of severe weather and lightning in mid-September," said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

There were 195 cloud-to-ground strikes in Rockingham County during a 15-minute period ending at 12:30 p.m., Hawley said.
 
The Manchester-Boston Regional Airport received 1.28 inches during a two-hour period between about 2 and 4 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.


The National Weather Service planned to post a severe thunderstorm watch for the state until 10 p.m. today for more possible strong to severe storms. The storms are ahead of a cold front that will bring much cooler temperatures Friday.

The Weather Service also posted a severe thunderstorm until 3:15 p.m. for southwestern Hillsborough County and southeastern Cheshire County.

A flash flood watch is in effect until 11:59 p.m. Thursday for Cheshire and Hillsborough counties.

Hawley said storms aren't considered severe unless they produce hail of at least 1 inch in diameter or winds exceeding 58 mph.

Union Leader correspondents Hunter McGee, April Guilmet, Susan Clark and Meghan Peirce contributed to this story.



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