With a welcome degree of foresight, my wife suggested that I write a first-hand account of this incident as soon as possible after our return home, in case, contrary to my expectations at the time, some of the finer details should begin to lose their clarity. This was the result…
Broad Haven Lightning Strike
The Inside Story
We have been regular autumn visitors to Broad Haven for some years and have stayed at the Seaview Apartments above the Londis shop on a number of occasions.
For us, a walk along the tide line in Wellington boots is close enough to water sports, a scramble to the top of Emmet Rock is quite ample when it comes to climbing, and carefully lifting a dead jellyfish to feel its weight is more than sufficient marine biology. It is on this beach that we have made the time to notice things: an almost invisible flounder; a moving limpet skilfully parking itself into its own pattern on a rock; a snail making its long trail across the sand; crabs fighting in a pool; a greedy gull attempting to swallow too large a starfish. We are not ones for the high season, and are prepared to take our chance with the weather.
It is Thursday, 9th October 2014. The previous day has been both energetic and enjoyable. Drowsily, we listen to the late night Shipping Forecast featuring thundery showers in many areas, though such activity as we have witnessed here in Broad Haven seems to have faded to little more than the occasional remote flash and distant growl.
At around ten past one Deborah decides to make her way to the other bedroom, something she often does since I am such a light sleeper. We switch off the radio, perched as it is upon a makeshift stand of stool and upturned waste bin in an effort to get better reception. I deliberately leave the blind up on the Velux window so I will see if the lightning returns. I drift off to sleep.
Once, or maybe twice, I become semi-aware of bright flashes but am not sure if they are part of a dream. Had we not spent time earlier watching the lightning, I may have been tempted to get up and peer out, but enough is enough and by this time sleep is the priority.
Then, in an instant, I am surrounded by intense white light and simultaneously engulfed in one massive detonation.
Somehow I know what is happening yet fail to make proper sense of it. For a split second I have the idea that we are at home and have just said goodbye to a sizeable portion of our roof, for I seem to glimpse metal edges silhouetted beneath the light. I open my eyes and grasp the fact that we are not at home.
I see sockets and wiring, and small clumps of cladding that are flying through the air while pieces of plaster rattle down onto the tops of the bedroom cupboards and clusters of deep orange sparks skitter toward me across the smooth surfaces. The radio has vanished from its artificial eyrie, its lead curving instead in the direction of the floor. There is a gaping hole in the sloping ceiling from which there now protrudes a long thick strand of loft insulation, and it is burning like the tongue of a quietly salivating dragon.
I do not notice the large sheet of plasterboard hanging ominously by only one edge almost directly above my head.
I leap up and see by the light of the flames that what would have been my wife’s side of the bed is littered with splinters and debris. Agonizingly, I cannot remember the location of the fire extinguisher. We do not ignore such things, we have made a deliberate mental note, we have seen it every day. It is like forgetting a well-known name, only very much more serious. I give up, and instead race to the bathroom to fetch a towel.
On my way, I realize that Deborah has not appeared and, failing to grasp just how little time has actually passed, begin to speculate about the possibility of a multiple strike. I shout above the screech of the smoke alarm. I rush back across the bedroom to the burning cladding in order to smother the flames. My first attempt fails but when I remove the towel for a second time the fire has been reduced to a shower of glowing sparks which cascade to the floor where they dance impotently around my bare feet.
The relief is short-lived, for immediately I am aware that there is still too much light in the room. I turn to see a steady flame rising from the folded-back bedspread and pounce once again with the towel. Now, at last, there is darkness and my wife joins me in the doorway. She asks what has happened, for she cannot see around the room. It has been a very long thirty seconds.
We find torches and survey the damage.
Rain is driving in through the hole in the roof and we are satisfied there is no more fire. The smoke alarm continues its unwanted ululation, now about as helpful as a cry to stop delivered after an impact. With a twinge of indoctrinated guilt, I am forced to pull out the battery – I need to think. We are left with the sound of the rain and the far-off rumble of thunder. It is time to dress, to alert the outside world – and to pack.
We try to ascertain the time. Our battery powered alarm clock reads 1209 but that cannot be correct. I check my watch by torchlight, my already confused mind puzzling over the single hand until I realize it is 0316. We look again at the travel clock and discover it is reading January 1st, 1996. Somehow, despite its position in the far bedroom, it has been thrown back to its default setting by the lightning strike, already ten minutes into the past.
I cross the rain-soaked car park and climb the outside steps to set about alerting the owners. It is soon discovered that the apartment lighting has only failed due to the tripping of the internal circuit breaker and we get our first clear view of the damage. The hanging plasterboard has released its tenuous hold and crunched into my side of the bed.
I move to unplug our electric nightlight only to find the double socket split in two and the appliance itself missing. I look for melted remains but can find no trace. Later, it turns up in the towel used for the fire and so appears to have been catapulted onto the bed. In due course we determine that, remarkably, neither it nor the radio are damaged.
I find myself wrestling with mixed emotions, not all of them entirely rational. Needless to say, I am thankful that Deborah was not in the room yet cannot help but feel apologetic that I have smashed the family record for proximity to lightning. I am immensely relieved that the fire was out so quickly, but remain stupidly sorry she never had a chance to see the flames. And whilst the nearby towel turned out to be a far better option than a sprint downstairs in the darkness, I nevertheless remain frustrated that I could not mentally locate the extinguisher at once. Furthermore, although we have undergone a rare and potentially dangerous experience without harm, this has been to the detriment of someone else’s property.
We are considerately ushered to alternative accommodation in Rocksdrift House, which chances to be empty. Outside, the emergency services arrive to clear the detritus from the highway and to check the building with the aid of an infrared camera. Attempts to restore power to the shop premises beneath our apartment only succeed in setting off more alarms.
Unsurprisingly, we do not return to sleep.
More photographs taken at Broad Haven: