Possible lightning strike destroys Chester home, storms wreak more havoc

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing  LLC

Chester fire fighters hose down a hot spot at the Rounds’ house on Sunday morning. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Chester residents Dennis and Jan Rounds lost their Chester home to a fire in the early hours of Sunday. No one was at home at the time.

Chester firefighters, who spent the early hours of Sunday morning extinguishing the house fire on Fenton Road, speculated that the cause of the blaze could have been a lightning strike. A line of severe thunderstorms with high winds and heavy rains rumbled through the area in the early evening Saturday and into the night.

A Mustang in the burned out garage.

According to Deputy Chief Robert “Red” MacAllister, the Chester Fire Department was called out around 12:45 a.m. Sunday with the report of a fire in the second floor of the Rounds’ 1,750-square-foot home. “When we arrived, it was fully involved and the windows were blown out,” said MacAllister, who was on scene mid-morning Sunday to extinguish some hot spots. “There was no one at home. The owners were on vacation in Maine.”

With severe thunderstorms in the area Saturday night and into Sunday morning, firefighters speculated that lightning from the storm ignited the blaze. A state fire investigator will be looking at the ruins on Monday in an effort to pinpoint the cause.

The remains of the Rounds house from the front steps.

The weather was also a factor in the response. “It was brutally hot and humid,” said MacAllister, noting that it was a large house requiring a lot of water to knock down the fire. “We had two sources of water going. Proctorsville was drafting out of the river and we set up a tanker shuttle from the hydrant down by the health center,” said MacAllister. The home sits on the Williams River.

A second alarm was deemed necessary to bring enough firefighters to the scene. At this time of year,  it can be harder to get full crews of firefighters due to vacations. Springfield, Bellows Falls, Rockingham, Ascutney, Windham, Proctorsville and Ludlow responded to the Rounds’ house while Grafton and Reading covered Chester’s fire station. Around 30 firefighters battled the blaze.

No injuries were reported although MacAllister said he had heard that a cat may have been in the house at the time of the fire.

UPDATE: A Go Fund Me account has been created to aid the Rounds family.  If you would like to donate, please click here.

Earlier storm shakes up Crow Hill Road

Earlier in the evening, Julie and Frank Kelley and their neighbors experienced the storm’s wrath when a possible microburst hit their area between 7 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, they said on Sunday afternoon.

Trees were felled on the Kelley property. Kelley photos by Julie Kelley.

Julie Kelley said her family was entertaining guests, cooking out and sitting on their three-season porch, when heavy rains started. “We kept closing the windows on the porch higher and higher,” she said. But the rains were coming in so hard, they hit the back of the porch, 8 feet away.

Then, she said, “the winds started swirling, you couldn’t see more than 10 feet away.” The wind then blew in one window on the porch and Kelley said she immediately carried her daughter Marina into an inside room. She added that Frank Kelley then came inside and told them that a lot of trees had been brought down — 10 in the field and two in their yard.

The Kelleys’ umbrella was broken in three places.

At the same time, a driver found himself barricaded along Crow Hill Road when trees fell in front and behind him, Kelley said. His car was freed thanks to the help of neighbors and town crews, who had the road cleared by about 10 p.m., she added.

Assessing the damage, Kelley said, “The patio umbrella is toast, the round metal table ended up 40 yards away and heavy wood Adirondack chairs were flipped over. And there are now openings in the woods that weren’t there.”

On Sunday morning, they discovered that a portion of the roofing was peeled back. Other neighbors — in a straight line, she said, had similar experiences.

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.



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  1. Katherine says:

    We too thought the sky looked “funny” south of Chester – reminded me of “twister” skies in the midwest.

  2. Polly says:

    Yikes Julie … what a misadventure……Kathy G posted that everything was yellow last evening … I had that here too … Mom in BF had pink and thought something was on fire … we were in a rainbow … it was eerie to be in yellow air … went to Mom’s just now … Connecticut River looking much like it did after Hurricane Irene … glad no one was hurt but you have a lot of cleanup … Polly

  3. Chere Tournet says:

    Remember a “microburst” on what is now Crow Hill Road (was Flamstead Road or extension) years ago. It cut a swath through the pines in the woods behind us. Not sure that the term microburst was used back the, in the late 1980’s.