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Lightning strike believed to be cause of two house fires in Richmond Township

A lightning strike during the thunder storm that passed through on Wednesday, April 17, is suspected to be the cause of the fire that resulted in a total loss of the home at 1155 134th Ave. in the town of Richmond. According to St. Croix County property records, the home is owned by Heather and David Donovan. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
While the NRFD was on the scene of a fire just a block away, a second call came in at 2:43 p.m. about smoke filling a home at 1156 132nd Ave. in the town of Richmond. The home is owned by Corey and Sarah Ashmore, according to St. Croix County property records. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
This home at 1155 134th Ave. in the town of Richmond was declared a total loss by the New Richmond Fire Department. The cause of the fire is believed to be a lightning strike that came from a strong storm that moved through the New Richmond area on Wednesday, April 17. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

According to New Richmond Fire Chief Jim VanderWyst, a single lightning strike caused fires to break out in two homes, as well as gas leaks and melted wires in others, in a one-block radius of 134th and 132nd avenues off of 116th Street in the town of Richmond on Thursday, April 17.

“We determined that one lightning strike caused all the problems. We had six mutual aid departments, in all, paged out at various times. We worked our butts off,” said VanderWyst. “I would say that all these houses were within one city block of each other. It was just kind of weird. We’ve had two houses in the past affected by a lightning strike in the past, but never three or four. That was a mean, ugly lightning strike.”

The commotion started at 12:56 p.m. when dispatch received a call about a fire at 1155 134th Ave., a home owned by Heather and David Donovan, according to St. Croix County property records.

“We were called there for fire and smoke coming from the attic space. It was fully engulfed by the time we got there and we called for mutual aid from Roberts immediately. While we were there dealing with that fire, the person who lived at the 134th address arrived home and found their house was full of smoke, which turned out to be a smoldering fire. Once we opened it up … we were able to save that house,” VanderWyst said.

A second call came into dispatch at 2:43 p.m. about smoke filling a house at 1156 132nd Ave., a home owned by Corey and Sarah Ashmore, according to St. Croix County property records.

“They were your ordinary house fires. I don’t know if the lightning came down like fingerlings and spread out and hit all of them, or if it hit something underground, such as the utility wires or something. We don’t know that,” VanderWyst said. “Xcel Energy was out there right away and got the gas shut off, but they were already out there for power failure prior to that and got the gas crews in right away. It was quite the day.”

The residents of the homes affected by the lightning strike were all out of the house at the time of the fires, VanderWyst said. In total, the department was on location in the same one-block radius for almost four hours.

The Donovan home, at 1155 134th Ave., was a total loss, VanderWyst said, while the Ashmore home, at 1156 132nd Ave., had a hole in the floor in addition to smoke damage, but the house as a whole was salvageable.

Both the Donovan and Ashmore families have had GoFundMe pages started in their names to help raise money for the families. The Donovan family page can be found at gofundme.com/k39udp-house-fire, while the Ashmore family page can be found at gofundme.com/ashmore-family-house-fire

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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