August 25th, 2007, began with a whirlwind of activity at Mike and Teri Kraszewski’s home in Halfmoon. The couple had just closed on their first house, a three-bedroom, 21⁄2 bath Colonial in the Fairway Meadows development, and relatives had descended to help with the unpacking.
By evening, the job was close to finished. Furniture was in place, boxes were unpacked, the betta fish were swimming happily in their bowl and there were even some pictures on the walls.
After dinner, Mike ventured out into a summer storm to get groceries while Teri stayed home to tuck their two young boys, Tyler and Andrew, into bed. Teri was getting ready to doze off herself when she heard a huge thunderclap. It sounded like lightning had struck close by — very close by — so she went downstairs to investigate.
Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, she went back upstairs to her room. When she sat down on her bed, however, she noticed something strange. “I saw this burn mark on our mirror and a little hole, about the size of the tip of my thumb, in the wall.”
That’s when she realized the house had been struck by lightning.
Safety tips inside the home
- Avoid contact with corded phones.
- Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.
- Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, take a shower, wash dishes or do laundry.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
- Do not lie on concrete floors, which may contain wire mesh; and do not lean against concrete walls, which may contain metal reinforcing bars. Lightning can travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
Courtesy of NOAA
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service, an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lighting strikes occur in the United States each year. One stroke, says NOAA, can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity — enough to keep a 100-watt bulb lit for three months.
Aware of lightning’s power, Teri was mystified by the tiny manifestation of its presence in her bedroom and fearful that the small hole in the wall and the mark on the mirror weren’t the end of the story.
“I got up and started feeling the wall, but I didn’t feel any heat,” she recalls. But a few minutes later she started to smell smoke.
Shorted out by the lightning, the home’s hard-wired smoke detectors remained silent because they didn’t have any battery back-up. But even without their urging, Teri knew it was time to get out of the house. She pulled her boys out of bed and went out in the yard to call 911.
“I went around to the back of the house and that’s where I saw the red up in the eves,” she says.
Smoke began to billow, and by the time Mike returned from the market, the entire attic was in flames.
Teri and her children were not hurt by the lightning because when it hit, they were safely away from anything that could conduct electricity.
To remain safe from a lightning strike inside your home, NOAA says you must stay away from any conducting path leading outside, such as corded telephones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, plumbing, and metal door and window frames.
“Benjamin Franklin said, ‘People inside houses can find safety [from lightning] by sitting in a silk hammock between two wooden posts in a comfortable room and reading a good book.’ ” notes Richard Kithil Jr., founder and CEO of the National Lightning Safety Institute. Beds served that same purpose for the Kraszewskis.
BATTLING THE BLAZE
In no time, trucks from several fire departments had arrived at the scene of the fire at the Kraszewski home. Fortunately, firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the attic.
“The fire department was phenomenal,” says Teri. “They came in and covered all of the downstairs furniture and so most of that was saved. One of the female firefighters came out with pictures of my boys from my dresser.”
When the smoke cleared, they surveyed the damage. Although the fire had only burned in the attic, water from the fire hoses had gone everywhere. “The floors were buckling, the cabinet doors were warping, there was a ton of water,” says Teri. The entire house had to be gutted. Amazingly, she notes, the fish survived.
Rendered homeless one day after moving, the Kraszewskis had no choice but to move back to the two-family home in Mechanicville they had moved out of just days before. “I swore I’d never go back there,” says Teri. “It’s beautiful, but it has only two bedrooms.”
Once relatively settled, they hired a builder and had an architect draw up renovation plans for their ruined home. The rebuilding process dragged on. “The builders were actually shoveling snow out of the house in November and December because the roof was off. It had to be taken off by hand because the rafters were so charred,” says Teri.
Ten months after the lightning strike, the house was bigger and better than ever. Before the fire, the home measured about 1,650 square feet. When rebuilding, the Kraszewskis enlarged it to a little over 2,000 square feet by adding a family room to the back of the house and bumping the back wall of the second floor out 2 feet, which increased the size of the master bath and one of the boys’ bedrooms.
The new family room on the first floor is bright and spacious. Painted a cool sage, it has a peaceful air. A stone fireplace and red oak floors add an earthy richness to the room. A couch that weathered the fire sits to the side of the fireplace, looking brand new. Not a whiff of smoke lingers.
The family room opens to a combined kitchen and dining area. Before the fire, the dining area served as the living room. The original dining room, down the hall from the kitchen, is now Teri’s office. The new layout allows much more space for entertaining.
The kitchen has much the same layout as before the fire, but the Kraszewskis made some upgrades, repositioned the island and changed the color scheme. Where smaller, light-colored cabinets once hung, dark maple cabinets now reach to the ceiling, framed in crown molding. New stainless steel appliances have replaced the off-white ones installed in the house originally. The floor is covered in variegated tile in shades of tan.
The changes in the master bath are what Teri really gets excited about. “I have a garden tub; that was my ideal,” she says. Above the spacious soaking spot hangs a chandelier; a window looks out on the tall trees behind the house. The bathroom’s vanity still needs a top. “We’re still in process,” Teri admits, but the house looks very put together, considering its state less than a year ago.
The only physical evidence left of the lightning strike are rust marks running down the concrete walls of the unfinished basement — a reminder of the massive amount of water used to douse the fire; a small burn mark on the exterior air conditioning unit; a rocking chair cracked from water damage; and Tyler’s ruined baby book, which Teri can’t bear to throw out. “The only other evidence is in my heart and mind,” she says.
The Kraszewskis moved back into their Halfmoon home June 13th — Friday the 13th. Teri says they never gave the date choice a second thought. But the following night there was a huge thunderstorm. Luckily, the house made it through unscathed.
Teri admits she’s still skittish during storms, especially since her aunt and uncle’s house in Mechanicville was struck by lightning just a few weeks ago. “It put a little hole in their slate roof and blew off their chimney,” she recounts.
Teri’s mother-in-law and mother are conspiring to have a priest come bless the Kraszewskis’ newly refurbished home to help protect it during future thunderstorms. Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof method to lightning-proof your home, says Kithil. “Lightning rods have some function in reducing the likelihood of fires to houses made of wood, but do not provide any safety for people or for electrical or electronic components of a house. They just mitigate the likelihood of fire, by providing a path of least resistance to the ground for the lightning,” he explains.
The Kraszewskis debated putting up lighting rods to help ward off damage from future strikes, but ultimately, they’ve decided to gamble. “Everybody jokes around that you can’t get hit twice. It would be like hitting Lotto,” Mike says. “We haven’t hit Lotto yet, so we’re waiting for that one now.”