NEWS HEADLINES

Lightning ignites 2 blazes

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Monday afternoon’s thunderstorms brought much-needed rain to Wise County, but also intense lightning that started at least two fires.

The Country Cowboy Church near Runaway Bay and three tank batteries southeast of Decatur were struck by lightning within minutes of each other.

Church Damaged

CHURCH DAMAGED – Firefighters make sure the blaze is extinguished Monday afternoon at Country Cowboy Church on U.S. 380, just east of Runaway Bay. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis said the tank battery fire was reported at 3:46 p.m., and the fire at the church was called in at 3:50 p.m.

The church is located next to Bay Landing on U.S. 380, just east of Runaway Bay. Travis said a woman who works at the Bay’s gated entrance saw the lightning strike a wall on the side of the church building.

“She said it was about 20 minutes before she saw any smoke, though,” he said.

When firefighters arrived, there was a softball-sized hole in the exterior wall with smoke and flames pouring out. Travis said there was an electrical wire running along the stud where the lightning hit. It was cut in two, sparking the blaze which spread quickly through the wall and into the attic.

Runaway Bay and Bridgeport firefighters were able to contain the fire to just one room.

Pastor Gary Wagener, who lives in Mesquite, said the room was used during congregational dinners.

“We used it to set up tables when we had Grub Sunday – what some people call potluck,” he said. “We’d go get the food in there, next to the kitchen, and take it back up to the main dining room.”

The congregation is only about a year old and has 60 members. The building was not insured. Travis estimated the damage at $4,000 to $5,000, which includes the burned room and a door firefighters had to force open.

Wagener said the building was once insured but it had lapsed, and he couldn’t find an agency to insure the structure for the desired amount. The minister, who couldn’t get to Wise County until Tuesday morning, was grateful for the help of Runaway Bay firefighter Joel Yeatts, who offered to board up the church last night.

The seven-year volunteer is also an insurance adjuster.

“When I found out they didn’t have insurance, I knew they wouldn’t have any temporary services to board up,” he said. “I knew if that building stayed open it wouldn’t be good.

“We’re a small community, and we have to look out for each other,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t do it, no one else would.”

Yeatts said he’s also working with Wagener to help him find a company that insures small churches, and he hopes to enlist the help of local pastors to plan a fundraiser for the congregation.

For now, electricity is cut off at the building, and it can’t be turned back on until an electrician inspects and certifies the structure.

TANK BATTERIES HIT

Meanwhile, southeast of Decatur, black smoke and flames billowed into the sky after three tank batteries were struck by lightning and exploded into a fiery blaze that could be seen for miles.

Travis said the tanks “took off like rockets” after catching fire, but no one was injured. East Wise, Decatur and Rhome firefighters were dispatched to the site near Longbranch Drive, just off Farm Road 2264.

The batteries were destroyed, and the well-head and compressor machinery on site was severely damaged.

The facility is owned by Enervest Operating. Monday night the company did not yet have a cost estimate for damages, according to Faron McCain, the company’s superintendent for the North Barnett Shale. He said they will rebuild on the site, however.

Although the lightning seemed to pose a threat Monday afternoon, meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said it was a typical springtime thunderstorm.

Cavanaugh said the storms that moved through Wise County were organized along a cold front and formed a squall line.

“We had lots of moisture, and we were pretty warm and that creates conditions that are very unstable and favorable for thunderstorms,” he said. “When you get a cold front to interact with warm, moist atmosphere, you get lots and lots of storms.”

Cavanaugh said the storms yesterday also had small hail somewhere within the system.

“You need ice somewhere in a storm to get lightning, so our storms yesterday were typical Texas thunderstorms with locally heavy rain and a lot of lightning,” he said.

Rainfall totals in Wise County Monday ranged from one-tenth of an inch in Bridgeport to 1.25 inches in Aurora.

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