Lightning strike which destroyed business ‘sounded like bomb going off’

A lightning strike which started a fire and destroyed a family business sounded like a car bomb going off, residents in Strabane have said.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 8:46 pm
Updated Monday, 5th July 2021, 9:40 pm

The fire service has confirmed that the blaze which gutted coffin-makers O’Doherty and Sons on Railway Street was caused by lightning during storms on Sunday.

At its height, 80 firefighters, 10 fire engines and four special appliances fought the blaze. Firefighters wore breathing apparatus and used jets and aerial appliances.

Danny Kelly, who lives on the street, described the scene.

The scene of aftermath of the blaze on Railway Street, Strabane, that destroyed a coffin-making business on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney / Derry Journal.  DER2127GS – 004
The scene of aftermath of the blaze on Railway Street, Strabane, that destroyed a coffin-making business on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney / Derry Journal. DER2127GS – 004

He told PA: “There was a really heavy rain storm. I was sitting in the house, I just live 50 yards up the street.

“About five minutes later there was the biggest bang I have ever heard of lightning, I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. I actually thought a car bomb had gone off.

“We went out and saw the smoke, within minutes the building was engulfed. The flames were 100 feet in the air.”

Mr Kelly added: “The O’Doherty family have been in business for 113 years, they export coffins all over the world. A very successful business. It is a sad day for them.”

Charlie Tighe lives next door to the business and said that firefighters saved his property.

He said: “I had went to my daughter’s house and a thunderstorm came along. I came home and was amazed at the sight, the flames were bouncing into the sky.

“The fire service saved my property.

“The O’Doherty family have lived there and been in business for three generations and to see it gone in a number of hours is really sad.”

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) assistant group commander Kevin McLaughlin confirmed that lightning had caused the fire and said there was “catastrophic damage” to the building.

He told the BBC: “We are satisfied that it (the fire) was due to the lightning storm at the time, given the time it occurred, given the video footage we have seen and from just the evidence of the fire.

“It does happen, but it is quite unusual – a single-storey building in the middle of the town, you wouldn’t expect it.”

It comes as a clean-up continues after flash floods hit the north coast on Sunday, causing disruption which affected a number of homes and businesses.

The promenade in Portstewart was closed to traffic after heavy rain caused cracks to appear in the road.

The mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens, Richard Holmes, said traders in Portstewart hope the promenade will soon reopen to traffic after Sunday’s torrential rain.

Mr Holmes told the PA news agency: “The drain under the road just got overwhelmed and the water started coming up through the manhole and then just started bubbling up through the road in a number of places.

“When the water receded you could see a number of cracks had opened up in the road, and the police were on site to close off the section of the road and got the cars off the promenade, and closed the shops on that section of the road.

“NI Water have worked through the night to make sure there is no structural damage. The next thing is to pare back the tarmac and see what damage there is. The pavement has reopened and the shops are open but the road remains closed.”

Mr Holmes added: “Portstewart was full at the time, people were running to try and get into their cars.

“Everyone understands the urgency to get this road reopened, it is peak trading season, holidays have started, the north coast is packed. The traders are looking forward to a bumper few weeks.”

A PSNI spokeswoman said: “Roadworks are ongoing on Portstewart promenade due to structural damage caused by adverse weather.

“There is limited access to vehicles, however pedestrians can still access local businesses in the area.

“Please be advised that the road is expected to reopen by Friday.”

John Law and Bethany Williamson, two holidaymakers from Lisburn staying in rented accommodation overlooking the promenade, described the incident as “very scary”.

Mr Law said: “We were out for the day and caught in the heavy showers and coming back up this way and the torrential rain came on, the manholes started lifting and then we noticed that the road was starting to lift.”

Ms Williamson added: “It was just full of water, it looked like a fountain, almost. It was really scary because you didn’t know what was going to happen.

“We were just walking up and all of a sudden it just happened.”

Mr Law continued: “The weather was fine and then it just came on suddenly. It was like a week’s rain in 10 minutes.

“The covers were up and they were lifting maybe eight inches off the ground. The pressure of the water just lifted them. I suppose there has to be a release somewhere.

“The tar lifted off the road, the asphalt is all cracked.”

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