Lightning may have sparked massive Petersburg fire

By Nicole Bell - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) – There's new information on what may have caused a massive fire at a Petersburg warehouse.

The early morning blaze gutted the former Brown and Williamson Tobacco building in July. Now, insurance investigators say they have a good idea of what sparked the fire.

Mother Nature is being blamed. Insurance investigators say they're confident a lightning strike started the fire.

"Three lightning strikes struck within 50 feet of that building, if not on the building. So we've been led to believe that lightning strikes caused the fire. As a matter of fact the fire did start on the roof which is consistent with a lighting strike," said Tom Wilkinson, managing partner for Franklin Development.

Lightning could be seen in that area hours before the fire.

NBC12 meteorologist Andrew Freiden says it's not uncommon for lightning to hit a structure - simmer - then, grow into a full-fledged fire.

"It happens frequently that they'll be a lighting strike -- even on a house and the fire will smolder in the attic for a few hours, maybe overnight before the homeowners notice something is going on the next morning," said Freiden.

The Petersburg Fire Department has not announced a cause for the blaze. Fire investigators say they're waiting for lab results.

Meanwhile, the developer says work on the $100-million mixed use project is back on schedule. The building that took the brunt of the fire damage is expected to be complete within a year.  The developer says the damage could have been much worse if the fire department hadn't responded so quickly.

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