Sunday fire started by lightning

Published 6:50 pm Thursday, July 17, 2008

While Scott and Mary Varnacke and their children were in Slidell, La., Sunday afternoon, they had no idea that their home on Mississippi 43 North in Picayune had been struck by lightning and was on fire.

A lightning bolt from a summer thunderstorm struck a tall pine tree next to the home, and jumped over to the southwest corner of the residence. At this point, it zeroed in on a corner closet and the master bathroom, catching them on fire and spreading into the attic. Callers to 911 reported flames coming out of the roof.

While this was taking place, Carriere volunteer firefighters were just finishing the task of removing a pine tree blown down on Burgetown Road, when they received the radio call for a structure fire at 3234 Miss. 43 North and responded. Other Carriere firefighters attending a meeting at Station 2 in Hide-A-Way Lake also responded.

Upon arrival, no one could tell firefighters if anyone was at home. However, once firefighters determined that the home was unoccupied and there was no need to rescue trapped victims, they were able to focus on delivering an aggressive interior attack resulting in quick containment of the primary fire, preventing its spread to the rest of the home.

Despite this success, however, firefighters had to pull down a significant part of the ceiling in the master bedroom in order to reach and extinguish remaining spot fires in nearby portions of the attic that were proving elusive. Although this resulted in more damage than that from just the fire, family members said they are covered by insurance and commended firefighters for being able to save the vast majority of their assets, according to a press release from the fire department.

“The key to saving this family’s home and their possessions was getting to it in time and launching a quick, hard, thoughtful and well-coordinated attack to contain the fire and prevent its further spread,” said Carriere Chief Tom Wagner. “Being able to do this on a routine basis requires extraordinarily intense teamwork from all personnel involved — from the firefighter on the end of a nozzle, to the deputy managing scene access, to the dispatcher handling radio traffic. It all has to click.”

 A total of 20 firefighters responded, representing Carriere, Henleyfield, Pine Grove, McNeill and Picayune. A Coast Electric crew disconnected electrical power, making it safer for firefighters working inside. Also responding were Pearl River County Fire Marshall Albert Lee, the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department, and AAA Ambulance.