Lightning strikes cause house fires, gas leaks in La Crosse

Two southside La Crosse homes catch fire after lightning strikes

Two La Crosse homeowners are looking over the damage after both of their homes caught fire from lightning strikes.

It happened at about 8:48 a.m. Friday on the 4200 block of Fairway Street.

Eleven-year-old Mike Challet said he was inside his house watching TV when he was scared by the loud crack of lightning hitting the tree in his neighbor’s yard.

“I stayed in my house and then my neighbors, about 20 minutes later, came and knocked on the door and told us to come out,” Challet said.

A few houses down from Challet is Ralph Steffes who was just getting home from morning Mass when he said he actually saw the lightning hit the tree across the street.

“I, quite frankly, saw a big ball of fire, Dorene and I both heard a loud crack and we looked over across the street and there was smoke coming out of the ground,” Steffes said. “My wife’s ears are still buzzing.”

The lighting strike is believed to be responsible for two small fires in nearby homes. Firefighters were originally dispatched to 4245 Fairway St. While responding, they got a call of a second fire at 4135 Fairway St.

They found a fire in the basement of the ceiling at the second call.

La Crosse Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff Murphy said there is moderate damage to both homes.

Investigators discovered that a tree between the properties had been struck by lightning.

They also found that several homes had arcing near their gas meter and damage to grounding wires. At least five homes were evacuated due to gas leaks in or around them.

The fire department and Xcel Energy had crews monitoring gas lines at all the homes along Fairway Street, Fairway Court, Peace Street, Verchota Street and Levy Lane.

Xcel said it was doing what it calls a mobile survey.

“It’s a vehicle that’s beyond a pickup truck, it’s got some sensing devices on the front bumper, we’ll be driving up and down the streets looking for additional possible leaks,” said Tim Kaiser of Xcel Energy.

As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, Xcel Energy crews were still working to repair the gas lines that were affected.

If homeowners in the area smell gas or believe they may have a problem related to this incident, they should call 1-800-895-2999 or 911 if they think it is an emergency.

No injuries were reported.