Lauren Bruce awoke early Saturday to find her home filled with smoke. She grabbed her 7-month-old daughter and ran into the pouring rain to find her duplex on fire from a lightning strike.
A fast-moving storm tore through the Austin area just before midnight Friday, bringing moderate rainfall and intense lightning. At one point during the storm, there were 3,600 lightning strikes an hour, according to the National Weather Service.
The lightning is being blamed for three house fires in Austin, including the one at Bruce’s duplex, and might be the cause of two house fires in Pflugerville, fire officials said. All five fires were reported in the space of about an hour and had fire crews scrambling.
“I was frightened. Nothing like that has ever happened to me,” said Bruce, 24, who lives on Carson Creek Boulevard in Southeast Austin with her boyfriend and daughter. “It was really smoky and very confusing. I felt so scatterbrained. I just knew I had to get my daughter and get out.”
Bruce, her family and their neighbors in the duplex escaped unharmed. The fire appeared to have started on the other side of the duplex when lightning struck a satellite dish, Bruce said. While her side of the duplex suffered water and smoke damage, her neighbors lost two rooms, she said.
“I was the one crying,” she said. “My daughter was just watching the lights” from the fire trucks, she said.
Bruce and her family were able to take shelter at a neighbor’s house as the storm blew through.
“This is a pretty close community around here, and they came together to make sure we were all right,” she said.
Bruce said it will be two or three weeks before she and her family can move back in. They are staying with friends in the meantime. It might take longer for her neighbors’ side of the duplex to be restored, she said, because its damage was more severe.
Two other homes, one on Sierra Oaks Drive in Northwest Austin and one on Jonwood Way in Northeast Austin, were also damaged by fires caused by lightning. No one was injured in the other two fires. In all, officials estimate the fires caused about $260,000 in damage to the three buildings.
In addition to the fires, emergency crews also performed a water rescue around 2 a.m. after a man entered Shoal Creek near Lamar Boulevard and Shoal Creek Boulevard and was swept downstream. There was a flood advisory in the area for several hours Saturday morning. It was not clear how the man ended up in the water, fire officials said, but he was rescued unharmed.
About 600 Austin Energy customers lost power Saturday morning. Crews worked through the day Saturday, and power was restored by Saturday afternoon, an Austin Energy official said.
Rainfall totals ranged from 0.37 inches at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to more than 2 inches of rain in Georgetown, the National Weather Service said.