By Jonathan Mummolo and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 12, 2008
A stifling four-day heat wave claimed two lives before finally subsiding Tuesday, only to give way to severe thunderstorms across the Washington region. The storms, which included hail and high winds, sparked fires and toppled trees and power lines, officials said.
One lightning strike went through a teenager in a horse barn in Loudoun County. The barn caught fire, but the woman -- and the horses -- escaped unscathed.
The storms capped several days of weather-related havoc after violent storms pummeled the region last week, leaving thousands without power as oppressive heat set in.
Yesterday, Maryland authorities announced the year's first heat-related deaths, both of which occurred Monday. In Prince George's County, a 65-year-old man collapsed while mowing his lawn. Anne Arundel County authorities found a 79-year-old man dead in his home, where the temperature was more than 90 degrees with no fans or air conditioning, said Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"They did have underlying conditions," Black said, noting that both men died from hyperthermia and complications from heart disease.
Tuesday's storms reached the region's northwestern suburbs, including Loudoun and Montgomery counties, about 4 p.m. and continued until about 7 p.m., with winds topping 65 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Additional thunderstorms from the southwest reached Fairfax and Prince William counties about 7:30 p.m. and the District about 8 p.m. before pushing off to the east after 9 p.m.
Dominion Virginia Power reported about 24,000 customers without power in northern and western Virginia; power was restored to all by 1 p.m. yesterday, Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said.
The storm also caused outages for about 6,000 Pepco customers. Most of those had power restored by yesterday afternoon, Pepco spokesman Bob Dobkin said.
"The crews had been on 12-hour shifts since last week and they just continued on through the night," Dobkin said. "It's been something."
Near the Loudoun community of Neersville, equestrian student Maggie Nichols, 18, was feeding horses in a barn Tuesday afternoon when she saw a giant flash, then felt a jolt. She stood stunned for a moment before realizing what had happened.
"We heard a loud crack, and you could see a huge glowing fireball at my hand, and then it went out through my other elbow," Nichols said, describing how the electric current struck the weathervane atop the barn before traveling down to the stall door and shocking but not harming her.
Within minutes, a fire, fueled by hay, spread throughout the barn, she said. She and other farm workers led the barn's 18 horses, including two foals, to safety.
She made three trips back into the blaze, she said. All of the horses were saved, and no one was injured. But the fire caused about $300,000 worth of damage, according to the county's Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management.
"You couldn't see, you couldn't breathe, you could just feel around for the horses," Nichols said. "The horses, you take care of [them] all the time and you love them, so you don't think about it. You have to go in and get them out."
Two houses in Annandale sustained fire damage after lightning strikes during Tuesday night's storms, Fairfax County fire officials said yesterday.
The first fire started after lightning struck a storage shed in the 7100 block of Beverly Street about 8:10 p.m. Fire spread from the shed to the siding of a house and also damaged a nearby vehicle.
Firefighters contained the fire to the house's exterior, and damage was estimated at $50,000. No one was hurt. Two adults and four children were displaced.
Ten minutes later, the roof of a single-family house was struck in the 4900 block of Wakefield Chapel Road. Firefighters found smoke and fire coming from the roof and attic and were able to contain the blaze there, fire officials said.
Again, no one was hurt, but two adults and three children were displaced. Damage was estimated at $150,000.
Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.