New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | January 27, 2023

Lightning, water shortage critical factors in house fire

By Alan Chamberlain | August 23, 2008 12:44 pm

Lightning has been ruled the cause of a fire that destroyed a couple’s house and its contents in The Colonies subdivision in the Lanexa area of New Kent County.

Thunderstorms that rolled through the area around 5 p.m. on Aug. 15 apparently triggered the bolt that struck the home of James and Brenda Watkins at 123 John Smith Trail. Mrs. Watkins arrived home shortly afterward to find smoke inside the house, Hicks said.

The strike apparently disabled the house’s phone system as she was unable to call for help, he said. She then raced to a neighbor’s home to alert 911.

Fire crews from New Kent companies 1 and 3 were on the scene within 16 minutes and found flames emanating from the rear of the one-and-a-half story structure as well as the attic, Hicks said.

Complicating fire fighters’ efforts, however, was an outdated water storage system in the subdivision. Crews ran out of water after draining the system’s storage tank just 15 minutes into battling the blaze. The tank, Hicks said, had been installed long before laws were passed requiring larger storage volume.

“It was an early system probably installed in the seventies when water quantity was not part of the code,” he said.

Crews began shuttling water from the nearby Chickahominy River, but could not save the structure. The house and its contents were deemed a total loss.

Hicks estimated the loss at $500,000, but said the building and contents were insured. The Watkins are staying with neighbors, Hicks added.