N.B. family forced from home after lightning strike in residential limbo

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FREDERICTON - Two months after a lightning strike forced a New Brunswick family out of their home, they still have no idea how or when they'll be able to return.
The lightning hit near Helena Wilson's home in Burtts Corner, busted the concrete in front of the garage, and entered the electrical system.
The strike damaged the wiring and some appliances, and blew the breakers in the electrical panel.
As a result, Helena, her husband Jeremy and their two-year old daughter Jordis were ordered out of their home by electrical inspectors due to safety concerns.
They have been living in a camper in their yard with no running water and no idea what's supposed to happen next.
"We have insurance for this, but haven't heard from anyone in four weeks," Wilson said. "It's been really frustrating."
Bob McPhee, an electrician with McPhee and Company Ltd., said lightning can cause severe damage to the wiring in a home.
It could result in a fire months later, he said.
"Most homes are built for 120 to 240 volts, but when lightning enters a home we're talking millions and millions of volts," McPhee said. "The wiring in appliances and in homes is not made for that kind of voltage and it's very dangerous."
McPhee assessed the Wilson's home. He invited an electrical inspector from the Department of Public Safety to join him.
"After reviewing the property, it was decided the entire electrical system needed to be replaced," McPhee said. "And I agreed. I wouldn't do it any other way because one missed damaged wire could cause a fire, and that's a lawsuit I wouldn't want as an electrician."
But Wilson said her insurance company won't pay for the wiring to be replaced, even though she has coverage for the damage.
She said her insurance agent told her that kind of job was unnecessary and a megohmmeter tester could pinpoint if the wiring is bad, defective or just in need of minor repairs.
"The problem is the Department of Public Safety, our electrician and other engineers and electricians we've spoken to have admitted the (megohmmeter test) does not always work as it's supposed to," Wilson said. "Sometimes it misses damaged wires and we're terrified to death that it would put us, and the life of our daughter, in danger."
Wilson's insurance agent and the agent's supervisor refused to comment on the issue, citing the privacy act.
Shawn Paulsen, chief electrical inspector for the Department of Public Safety, said he couldn't comment on Wilson's file either.
But he said the department has a policy for dealing with residences and buildings affected by lightning.
It involves the disconnection of power to the property, a review by a licensed electrician and visual checks to all outlets, appliances, thermostats, light switches and other receptacles, he said.
Paulsen said a report from the electrical contractor is sent to the department and the homeowner is given an order on how to proceed with repairing any damage that may have been caused by lightning.
He said when lightning trips a fuse and blows the circuit breaker in a house, homeowners are typically told they must have the wiring system replaced.

Organizations: Department of Public Safety, McPhee and Company

Geographic location: FREDERICTON, New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • BM
    January 18, 2010 - 09:52

    Electricians and Electrical Inspectors know more about the problem and hazards of a lightening stike than any insurance broker setting behind a desk all day.

    I suggest to these people that they get a lawyer to look into the insurance companies decision not to pay for something that is covered in their insurance policy.

    I am a retired electrician and I fully agree with the decision of the inspector and electrician. There could be a bare wire hidden in the wall or ceiling that is not in contact with a ground. It would not show up on a megohmmeter test. As well the insulation on the cables/wiring could be weakened by the overheating form the high voltage strike but it would not show up on the test either. This is from my personal experience. The insulation could completely break down at a later time when put back into use and the cable heats up from the electricity passing though it to an appliance. In turn causing a fire.

    The insurance companies need an education on such matters instead of just trying to save themselves a few dollars. I have had my share of arguements with insurance companies in the past. Usually a lawyer can get things moving.

    Get a lawyer and go after your insurance company for what you have been paying for.