The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 25, 2013

Lightning strikes tree, starts attic fire in Lewisburg

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG - A 300-mile line of violent thunderstorms and heavy wind gusts moved through Pennsylvania and into the Valley at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, letting loose a lightning bolt that struck a tree and started a fire in the attic of a Lewisburg house, knocking down trees and causing more than 2,700 PPL customers to lose power in Monroe Township, Juniata County.

Also losing power were 153 customers in Perry County, including 95 in Tyrone Township. In Lower Mahanoy Township, Northumberland County, 19 customers were without power.

The attic of a house occupied by the Bucknell University provost caught fire at about 9:30 after a freak lightning strike split the top of a tall tree standing in front of the dwelling. The lightning ran through the electric wiring that ran through the tree and into the attic, said Mick Smyer, the provost.

Smyer has been university provost since 2008. Bucknell owns the home on University Avenue.

The strike occurred at the peak of a driving rain, lightning and thunderstorm that neighbors described as violent, crackling and loud.

Smyer said he was home when the lightning hit. “I could immediately smell the fire,” he said as he stood outside his home in the rain at about 10 p.m. “I’m OK,” he said.

But the tree in front of his house isn’t. There is a split at the top of the trunk that runs for about 10 feet.

As firefighters examined the inside of the home for flames, everyone else took time to look up at the tree.

A couple who lived nearby said they heard a “crack” at about the time the tree was hit.

The full extent of the damage to the tree and the house was not known at deadline. Responding to the blaze were fire and rescue personnel from Lewisburg, Milton and Mifflinburg.

All this occurred near the end of an oppressively hot and humid day in the Valley when temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees.

But the worst is yet to come, said Mike Pigott, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, State College. Temperatures today should hit 90 with very high, extremely uncomfortable humidity.

“The real-feel temperature in the afternoon will be 97 degrees,” Pigott said. “And expect more thunderstorms into Thursday.”