Lightning strikes Willmar halfway home, fire displaces residents but no injuries
WILLMAR — A Willmar halfway home for men caught fire Monday after being struck by lightning.
All the residents and staff at the James House, 1423 Kandiyohi Ave. S.W. in Willmar, safely escaped the two-story building without injuries but they were relocated to temporary shelters while structural and electrical damage is assessed.
The fire was reported around noon Monday, shortly after a brief rain shower passed through Willmar that delivered a bolt of lightning.
"It was a pretty heavy-duty crack," said Josh McGillivray, battalion chief for the Willmar Fire Department, who added that he was not surprised when the department was called to a report of a lightning strike.
A client in the Christian-based rehabilitation program said the group was watching a movie on the main floor of the James House when the lightning struck and blew out an electrical breaker and the TV cable box.
"It sounded like one of those M80 Black Cats (firecrackers) going off in the living room," he said.
Kevin Dettler, the house manager at the James House, said it was "like an explosion" in the room. "It really shook us."
They were not aware at the time that the roof was on fire, and they took time to replace a fuse and look for something to repair the DVD player to keep watching the movie.
But when a resident went to the garage to look for a tool, he noticed the smoke coming from the roof of the two-story house and 911 was called, said Dettler, who praised the Willmar Fire Department's quick response.
McGillivray said the lightning bolt entered the roof near the chimney and TV antenna and exited through a soffit.
Even though fire, smoke and water damage was contained to the attic and roof, McGillivray said the home cannot be occupied until structural and electrical repairs are made. He estimated the damage at a minimum of $30,000.
Dettler, who was standing outside the James House while Willmar firefighters were on the roof and inside the smoky building putting out the fire, said it was "very fortunate" no one was injured.
At that time, Dettler said he did not know where the men would go if the building was deemed uninhabitable.
"Right now, I have no clue," he said.
In an interview later Monday afternoon, McGillivray said he believed the Salvation Army was assisting in finding temporary shelter for the residents.
"I feel we did the best job we could do," said McGillivray, who was pleased there were no injuries and that damage to the home was contained to one area. "Everything went well. It's just bad that it had to happen."
Fire departments from Kandiyohi, Pennock and Blomkest assisted at the scene, along with the Willmar Police Department and Willmar Ambulance.
Crews were on the scene for about 3½ hours.