LIBERTY TWP, Ohio - Imagine coming home after a trip to the dentist and finding smoke pouring from the roof.
That's what Lyn Reece experienced Wednesday driving up Lantana Drive to her house of one month at the Towne Homes of Four Bridges in Liberty Township.
A lightning bolt from severe storm struck the roof and caught the building on fire. Firefighters were quickly notified, but the blaze spread fast.
"We had heavy black smoke visible for several miles," said Liberty Township Fire Chief Paul Stumpf. "We started several mutual aid companies coming in from Monroe, Fairfield Township and Mason."
Reece's husband, Dan, a retired FBI agent, was out of town in Tennessee at the time, so neighbors the couple was just getting to know jumped in to help.
A Marine just back from Afghanistan dashed into the house to bring out personal items. One of the things he spotted was a flag that had been atop Dan Reece's father's casket.
"He served in Iwo Jima during World War II," he said, happy to have the item back.
Lyn Reece was helped getting a computer out of the inferno -- one that had sentimental family pictures of their two children and five grandchildren. When that was done, she was offered clothing to replace what was lost.
Chief Stumpf said firefighters put the blaze out in about 20 minutes. They tried to fight it from the interior, but when ceilings started to collapse, they were ordered out to continue their work in a defensive position. Damage was estimated at $375,000. The Reeces have insurance and plan to rebuild.
Homeowners Association President Rich Halter said many residents approached him Thursday to see what could be done to prevent future storm problems. The matter will be on the agenda for the next association meeting.
"How do we limit the risk for all of the homes here in this development," he said. "We really want to explore how to arrest lightning strikes."
That was the same thought Chief Stumpf had. He said he's been thinking about starting an educational program on lightning safety tips.
"Maybe there's something we can do to start the conversation, offer advice, offer information and let the residents explore it further if they'd like," he said.
The reason for the interest is the fact that Liberty Township has become known as "Lightning Alley." Strong storms often rumble roll through the area, which has the highest elevation of any other Butler County Community.
Chief Stumpf said the township had 100 lightning strikes the past year with three of them coming in the Four Bridges area. That's roughly the same number as 1992, but the landscape has changed dramatically since then.
The township was once extremely rural. Farmhouses and barns had lightning rods to protect against damage from lightning. Now it has 37,000 residents and many farm fields have been replaced by huge subdivisions.
"Twenty years ago it was striking a tree or a field. Didn't affect anyone. No one noticed," he said. "Today, if lighting strikes, it has a greater chance of striking a home or a structure of some sort just because of the density we've gained."
Many government buildings and commercial structures are equipped with lightning rods and the homeowners association will discuss adding them as well.
"I think it's something that's worth our while to talk to the experts," said Halter. "Find out is there some way we can protect ourselves furthers."
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