Storms blamed for church fire, collapsed roof
BALLSTON Wednesday severe weather left one woman trapped by a fallen roof and a church scarred by lightning.
Warm, humid air from the southern Plains and Deep South wafted over the Great Lakes, clashing with cool air and sparking storms that caused widespread power outages and threatened the region with more lightning and rain Thursday night.
The end of the unseasonably hot weather is expected today, according to the National Weather Service, and lead to high temperatures closer to 60 degrees than to Wednesday’s 93.
Wednesday’s storms turned out the lights — and air conditioning — for roughly 20,000 customers served by National Grid. National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the most severe damage took place from Saratoga County north to Warren and Washington counties, each of which was hit again Thursday.
Thursday’s thunderstorms added another 4,600 outages to the list, this time focused on Schenectady, Niskayuna and Clifton Park, Stella said.
National Grid was projecting most power would be restored late Thursday with the help of additional crew members called in, many of whom worked through Wednesday night, as well.
The historic Ballston Center Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on Middle Line Road was damaged by a lightning-sparked fire during Wednesday night’s storms.
The church, which was founded in about 1775, will need to move worship services to its adjoining Fellowship Hall for at least a month because of damage to the sanctuary, said its pastor, the Rev. Charles Roberts.
A lightning strike around 6:30 p.m., in the midst of a severe storm, hit the church bell tower, which burst into flames and was heavily damaged. Roberts said the tower will be repaired eventually, but other repairs need to take priority.
“The walls and ceilings were damaged by smoke and water, and the carpet will have to be replaced,” he said.
The Burnt Hills Fire Department brought the flames under control with the assistance of several other fire companies.
The church, at the corner of Charlton and Middle Line roads, was the first congregation in Ballston, started by the Rev. Eliphalet Ball, who also was the town’s founder.
The previous building, erected in 1854, was destroyed by a devastating fire in October 1993 — a blaze that spared little other than the bell tower.
“The bell tower is one thing that survived the 1993 fire, and it was what was struck this time,” Roberts said.
Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond said the roof over an apartment on Park Street in Seward blew down during Wednesday night’s storm, leaving an elderly resident unable to leave.
The Sharon Springs Fire Department and Ambulance got the woman out; she was provided lodging and food by the Red Cross of Northeastern New York.
A large tree also fell on Slate Hill Road in Seward, blocking the road, but Desmond said there were no reports of severe damage or injuries.
National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Lipton said the chance of thunderstorms continued into late Thursday, but he said it will clear up and feel like autumn by the weekend. The muggy air from the Deep South gradually will give way to cool air from Canada in the Capital Region, bringing temperatures down to around 60 degrees by Saturday.
Lipton said Wednesday night’s storms brought a great deal of lightning and heavy wind gusts. One report came in that gusts reached 70 mph on the northeast side of Saratoga Lake.
Despite the change back to seasonable weather, the risk of severe storms isn’t over. The hurricane season doesn’t end until late November, and as Sandy proved last October, late-season hurricanes can be just as damaging as early ones.
“We’ve still got a way to go,” Lipton said.