Last week’s hail, lightning and thunderstorm was more than an inconvenience for Idyllwild resident Troy VanderWende, 53. In fact, he is fortunate to talk about the damage done to his Marion View Drive home.
At about 5:45 p.m., a lightning bolt struck a pine tree next to VanderWende’s property, spi- raling down the tree. The electricity jumped to his trailer, blowing a hole near the roof, exiting out the door on the opposite side and creating a cavity in the concrete driveway.
VanderWende was standing in the front of the garage holding an umbrella after just running down the drive to check the hail damage.
He was knocked over and skidded along the garage floor to the side door. Gasping, he stood up and ran to the house. His auditory senses were in pain.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” VanderWende said.
Meanwhile, the electrical pulse ripped through the panel on the laundry shed, shredding and tearing wires. “It shredded the junction box,” he said.
It continued to the panel on the opposite side of the house and into the dwelling’s electrical system.
“In the house, everything, — television, computer — was fried,” he said. “Even with surge protectors, you can’t stop that many volts.”
Unable to hear because of his proximity to the blast, he realized that his wife, Joni, was telling him there were fires. The kitchen range, with a gas top, was burning. Throwing lots of water on it, he quelled that fire.
Seeing smoke in the laundry shed, he ran there and opened the door. Now smoke was surrounding him. Moving through the cloud, he could see the dryer on fire. “It’s near a gas line,” he said. He instinctively reacted to extinguish that fire.
“I turned off the gas,” he said, but later lamented that he didn’t have the consciousness to turn off the gas at the tank. Being a general contractor, afterwards he naturally thought of a broader solution that eluded him during the incident.
Exhausted, overheated and in shock, he finally rested. Meanwhile, Joni had to find a location in the neighborhood to find a signal to call 911 with her cell phone. The electrical damage in the house also disabled their land lines.
When Idyllwild Fire Department arrived, smoke was still billowing from the house and laundry area. “Who put out the fire?” they asked. VanderWende admitted that he had done it, but was still suffering hearing loss and other side effects.
“Idyllwild Fire was great. They comforted me and urged me to go to the hospital because of how close I was to the electrical surge,” VanderWende said. By the time the ambulance got him to Desert Regional Medical Center, his breathing and heart had returned to near normal, although some temporary hearing loss remained.
This was not VanderWende’s first experience close to lightning. Several years ago, while riding his mountain bike in Hemet’s Simpson Park during another storm, lightning struck close by and began burning the bushes. “It was incredibly loud,” he said.