By Steve Bauer and Michael Martin Garrett
A severe storm that passed through State College on Sunday evening left a path of fire and downed trees behind it.
Crews from several local fire companies responded to a call that came into the Alpha Fire Company at 7:23 p.m. after a condominium at 3221 Shellers Road in Ferguson Township caught fire after being struck by lightning.
“I heard it before I saw it,” says Helen Magnuson, who lives across the street. “It sounded like a bomb and I thought it had hit my house but when I raced down, I came out through this door, the house over there was already on fire.”
She says she “didn’t have time to think” and immediately ran back inside to call 9-1-1.
Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Kauffman of the Alpha Fire Company says that visibility was low due to heavy rain when crews arrived on the scene. After determing no one was inside the burning unit, fire crews from State College, Boalsburg, Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap battled the blaze from the outside.
Kauffman says no one was injured, but that all four units in the building suffered extensive smoke and water damage. One unit also took major structural damage to the roof.
“It probably took 30 to 40 minutes to get it under control,” Kauffman says.
While fighting the blaze one firefighter was transported to the hospital where he was being monitored for exertion as of Sunday night, Kauffman says.
The storm also knocked down trees at two intersections in downtown State College. Beaver Avenue at Pugh Street was closed after a tree fell on a power line. Borough crews also worked to remove a large tree branch from the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Locust lane.
Meteorologist Steve Wistar of Accuweather says that it “was a pretty strong storm with quite a bit of lightning.” A severe thunderstorm warning was issued Sunday evening in anticipation of the storm’s strong winds, which reached 45 mph at the Accuweather center on Science Park Road in State College.
Because of an area of unusually cold air moving through the air, thunderstorms developed after this mixed with the warm and humid air closer to the ground. Ice crystals in the air also contributed a greater amount of lightning, Wistar says.
“The upside is that we’ll get cooler weather than normal for July for the next few days,” Wistar says. “The storms are kind of the payoff for the comfortable weather.”