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Lightning starts fires around county

LAWRENCEVILLE - A veteran firefighter was hospitalized with a minor injury Thursday after he and another firefighter plummeted through the floor of a burning house.

The other firefighter was not injured. The Gwinnett County Fire Department did not release the names of the two men or give specifics about the injury due to federal patient privacy laws.

"We're very fortunate that the injury was minor and that there was no fire beneath them," said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

The blaze was attributed to a lightning strike from a thunderstorm which rumbled through Lawrenceville shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday. Neighbors reported hearing a loud boom and seeing smoke coming from the roof of the split-level house on Waverly Drive, Rutledge said. The residents were not home.

By the time firefighters arrived, a heavy fire was burning in the house, traveling through the floor into the walls and then climbing higher into the attic. Two firefighters were manning a hose line on the second floor when the floor gave way beneath them.

They fell to the main floor and were trapped by debris, but fortunately the fire was not burning near them, Rutledge said. The firefighters issued a "mayday" call over the radio, and a rescue team subsequently pulled them to safety.

The injured firefighter was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center for treatment. He was expected to be released Thursday evening, Rutledge said.

Four adults and two small children were displaced by the fire, which caused significant damage to the home. The family owned three cats and two dogs.

Two of the cats did not survive. One cat was rescued early on by firefighters, but two cocker spaniels were unaccounted for until after the blaze was brought under control at 6:07 p.m. Firefighters found the dogs hiding underneath a bed on the main floor, surrounded by debris.

Family members, who by then had arrived home, drove the dogs to an animal hospital to be evaluated. One female resident sat cross-legged in the driveway cradling the sole surviving cat while firefighters went to and from the house dousing hot spots and packing up equipment. Family members did not speak to media at the scene.

Rutledge said the family was very relieved the dogs were unharmed.

"They were just like babies to the family," Rutledge said.

The Red Cross was called to assist the residents with temporary housing and other needs.

The same storm which caused the house fire also wreaked havoc elsewhere in Gwinnett.

Firefighters responded to an outbuilding that burst into flames after being struck by lightning at 4 p.m. at Sierra Ridge Place in Loganville. An hour later, lightning struck a business at 2338 Scenic Highway in Snellville causing only minimal damage.

Also Thursday, lightning came in through an electrical outlet in a home in Loganville and set a mattress on fire. Damage was contained to the mattress, Rutledge said.