Storm sparks fire that destroys house in Little River

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 08:42 PM

Lightning from the storm system that passed through Caldwell County on Thursday sparked a fire that destroyed a house in the Little River community, while the storm's strong winds left thousands across the county without power and sent emergency crews responding to dozens of calls of fallen trees and power lines on roads.

Lightning struck the home of Carla Hensley at 3894 Hensley Green Lane about 3:30 p.m. Hensley told investigators that she was getting out of the shower when she heard a loud popping sound, according to a Caldwell County press release. Her daughter looked out the door and saw the porch was on fire. Hensley and three children and several animals escaped the fire safely, but several other pets died in the flames.

Kevin Brown of the Caldwell County Fire Marshal’s Office said flames raced up the wall and into the attic of the two-story, wood frame, vinyl-sided home, the press release said. Damages were estimated at $160,000. Brown said the American Red Cross is assisting the family.

The storms here were part of a line that raked across all of North Carolina. Weather forecasters and utility companies reported a total of more than 174,000 people without power and hundreds of downed trees statewide. Duke Energy said on its website Thursday that most of the outages were in Forsyth County, where more than 41,000 customers were without power, and in Guilford County, where power was out to almost 28,000 customers.

In early afternoon, clouds above Caldwell began to gather and darken an otherwise sunny sky. Around 3:30 p.m. a heavy thunderstorm rapidly closed in, bringing high winds and lightning strikes. As calls for emergency service started pouring in, downed trees began to dot the landscape, often taking down power lines that got in the way. By 5 p.m., 883 Blue Ridge Electric customers in Caldwell County were without power, as well as 1,232 Duke Energy users.

Among those losing electricity was the Caldwell County Communications Office, the command center for emergency response. After a few minutes, thanks to a backup power source, all was back to normal. But traffic lights went out at several major intersections, including Smith Crossroads in Lenoir, left motorists directionless until police officers arrived to direct traffic. Some of the lights remained on blinking status into the night.

More than a dozen roads across the county were affected by trees blocking traffic. Trees fell on or near three houses in a two-block stretch of South Main Street in Granite Falls. Yards were littered with limbs and branches that had been jerked off trunks of trees.

The massive storm system started in the Upper Midwest and plowed across the country, hitting Mid-Atlantic and Southern states on Thursday. It caused widespread power outages and flash flooding but otherwise damage consisted mostly of downed power lines and trees, some of which have hit houses or other structures, said Ryan Ellis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

"Nothing where we're seeing any stronger structures blowing down because of the wind," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.