Laptop User Slightly Hurt as Power Surge Jolts House

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

It was Wednesday afternoon, and Martin Fischer, an Ellicott City sales representative, decided to log on and finish a little work before celebrating the Fourth of July holiday with his family. Thunderstorms were moving through the area, so the picnic plans were on hold.

He went to the basement. The battery on his laptop computer was running low, so he plugged it in. He settled down with the computer on his knees.

Then, normalcy exploded. A surge of power shot through his legs.

"It really jolted me," he recalled. Upstairs, a flash of light made his wife scream.

Everyone was shaken. The family, worried that lightning had struck the house, called 911.

A fire-and-rescue team that arrived at the brick colonial on Walt Mill Court about 5:15 p.m. could find no evidence of a lightning strike and no trace of fire, said William Mould, a spokesman for the Howard County Fire and Rescue Department.

The rescue workers concluded that the house had been hit by a power surge.

"We believe it was because of the storm," Mould said. "I can't say he was struck by lightning."

According to the National Weather Service's Web site, "In addition to direct strikes, lightning generates electrical surges that can damage electronic equipment some distance from the actual strike."

Rescue workers treated Fischer, Mould said.

"He suffered some minor burns to his legs and asked to be evaluated," Mould said. An electrocardiogram ruled out lasting damage, he said.

Fischer said that the family usually turns off electrical appliances and takes other precautions during storms but that in this case, the weather did not seem imminently threatening.

"We just heard a couple of rumbles, and then it just hit," he said. "It was a bizarre incident."

Sarah Rogowski, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service, said a severe thunderstorm warning had been in effect for Howard County from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The Weather Service urges people to go indoors during storms but also cautions them to take precautions while inside, such as avoiding contact with corded phones, electrical equipment and plumbing.

Fischer, who said the welts on his legs had subsided by about 10 that night, considers himself lucky that he emerged largely unscathed.

"I think it was just a big scare," he said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company