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Heavy thunderstorm brings reported lightning strikes to Harford Monday night

A house burns along Bonaire Road in Jarrettsville Monday night during a major thunderstorm that hit Harford County.
A house burns along Bonaire Road in Jarrettsville Monday night during a major thunderstorm that hit Harford County. (Courtesy of Mike Laslo, Harford County, Baltimore Sun)

Fire crews in Harford County were stretched in multiple directions Monday night, as a major thunderstorm pounded the western and central portions of the county.

The full storm lasted for about two hours, between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., and it came with a series of lightning strikes that caused damage to at least four properties, as well as thunder and heavy rains, according to fire investigators.

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Firefighters responded to four house and garage fires that were reported within a 25-minute period, between 10:39 p.m. and 11:04 p.m., according to a list of incidents posted online by Rich Gardiner, a spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association.

First responders also dealt with two calls involving vehicles stranded in high water.

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A number of incidents happened in the Jarrettsville area, including a house fire in the 1200 block of Bonaire Road, when lightning struck the roof of a dwelling.

Approximately 50 firefighters from the Jarrettsville, Bel Air, Whiteford and Fallston volunteer fire companies, as well as from the Hereford Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County, responded to the fire on Bonaire at 10:47 p.m., according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. It took about an hour to bring the fire under control.

Damage to the two-story home is estimated at $75,000 and damage to contents at $30,000, according to the Fire Marshal's Office, which said the cause was a lightning strike.

"The owners were not home at the time of the fire; however, their grandson was house sitting when he observed smoke coming from the ceiling," the Fire Marshal's Office's notice of investigation states. "The area experienced severe storms and other homes on the street sustained lightning related damage."

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Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire, a spokesperson for the Fire Marshal's Office, said the grandson, Collin Hobbs, is a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter at the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company, who saw smoke coming out of a second-floor chandelier after the lightning hit.

"He knew that the house was struck, and it was an active working fire in the attic," Alkire said.

Alkire said Hobbs called 911 and was able to get out of the house with a family pet.

While investigating the fire, Alkire also checked out a house across the street where another bolt of lightning hit the ground nearby and left a hole that was about the size of a basketball.

He said the energy traveled into the house and melted the interior telephone wiring.

"It actually caused one telephone to become disfigured on the wall, and it caused numerous old telephone wiring to melt," he said.

A third lightning strike caused a gas leak in the 1200 block of Bonaire Road. Lightning also hit a house in the 4300 block of Cooper Road, but it only left a "odor of smoke" in the basement, according to Gardiner's post on Facebook.

Gardiner also reported that firefighters assisted one motorist stranded in high water at Old Joppa Road and Whitaker Mill Road in Fallston at 11:14 p.m., and that Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies responded at 1:12 a.m. to another motorist stranded in the 1300 block of Carrs Mill Road in Fallston.

That person declined help from deputies, he said.

Aaron Koos, a spokesperson for BGE, said the storm was "dramatic," but it caused few problems for electric customers in the utility's entire Central Maryland service area.

Koos said 145 outages, out of 1.2 million customers, were reported during the storm. He did not have specific numbers for Harford County.

"We never experienced any significant outages," Koos said. "However. based on the weather forecast we did have extra crews deployed to the field in case we had to respond to any outages."

Much of the rain fell around Bel Air and areas west of the county seat.

Andrew Snyder, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office in Sterling, Va., said 2.94 inches fell west of Bel Air, 2.02 inches fell in Kingsville, and 1.12 inches fell in Fallston.

He said about half an inch to three quarters of an inch fell around Norrisville, and no rain fell in Aberdeen.

June was a particularly wet month in Harford County, with well-above average rainfall totals, including 12 inches in Havre de Grace, about 9.5 inches in Norrisville and 14.84 inches west of Bel Air, according to Snyder.

As an example, Snyder said the average rainfall for Aberdeen in June is 3.82 inches.

"We've had a lot of fronts that have stalled out across the area this summer, so they've been able to provide that focus area for thunderstorm development," he said regarding the recent frequency of summer storms this year.

Snyder said Harford County is also affected by the "bay breeze," or winds coming off the Chesapeake Bay.

"That can form a mini-front where thunderstorm can either be developed or enhanced along it," he said.

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