Fire Chief: Lightning May Have Caused Mark Wohlers' House Fire

4:08 PM, Mar 4, 2011   |    comments
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Former Atlanta Braves Pitcher Mark Wohlers in Milton, GA, speaking about the fire that destroyed his family's home, March 1, 2011

[UPDATE, Fri. March 4, 2011] Lightning may have caused the fire at Mark Wohlers' home early Tuesday morning, even though the home itself was not struck by lighting, according to Milton Fire Chief Robert Edgar on Friday.

Edgar said National Weather Service data shows multiple lightning strikes in the area at the time of the storm, at dusk Monday.  The strike closest to Wohler's home, recorded by the NWS, was three-tenths of a mile away.

There were power surges in the neighborhood as a result of the lighting storm, with lights dimming, going bright, dimming again, going bright again. 

Edgar said a power surge could have overheated the wiring in Wohlers' home, causing it to smoulder and then, several hours later, catch fire.

He said the investigation is not complete and no cause has yet been determined, but the power surge is one possibility.


[UPDATE, Wed. March 2, 2011] Milton Fire Chief Robert Edgar emailed this update to 11Alive News Wednesday afternoon:

The Fire Marshal is currently conducting an investigation into the origin and cause of the fire, including consideration of any impact [Monday] evening's weather may have had on the fire's cause and spread. 

According to Fire Marshal Matt Marietta, "the high wind conditions that night and shingle-style roof construction likely contributed to the rapid extension of the fire throughout the house.  When our crews arrived on scene and ascertained that all the residents were safe, conditions forced us to fight the fire from a defensive posture  while simultaneously ensuring that the blowing embers did not spread the fire beyond the initial residence." 

While pursuing every likely explanation for the fire, investigators are considering the possibility that electrical issues associated with the severe weather may have some impact on the fire's cause and spread.  The investigation is still ongoing.


MILTON, Ga. (Tue., March 1, 2011) -- Former Atlanta Braves Pitcher Mark Wohlers and his family narrowly escaped a fire that destroyed their Milton home early Tuesday morning.

At about 12:45 a.m., Wohlers said Tuesday afternoon, his wife woke up, saw an orange glow from outside their window, and she woke him up.

"I jumped out of bed and I saw the orange at the other end of the house, the glow, and I said 'It's a fire,' it was outside of the house. I started running toward the kitchen where the fire was on the outside of the house," while his wife gathered their three children, ages 3, 5 and 7, and ran outside away from the fire.

They called 911, but the fire was spreading so quickly, aided by a brisk wind, firefighters could not save their home.

They escaped with their lives and the pajamas they were wearing.

Their family photographs, and most of Wohler's irreplaceable keepsakes from his career in baseball, were lost.

Wohlers' voice shook, not saying a word about any of that even when asked about it, thinking only of how he nearly lost his family, and how his family is okay.

"It's just hard to put in words how grateful we are and how fortunate we are and how thankful we are....My wife and I were standing in front of our house watching it burn and we just looked at our car where our kids were at, and we just said everything that's important is out."

That's from the heart that easily recalls all the ups and downs of a life on the pitcher's mound long ago that seemed so important long ago --

the heart of a man whose family is safe and whose neighbors are rallying to support them all.

"This is the outpouring from the neighborhood," Holly McCormick said, pointing to the bags of clothing, school supplies and other essentials for the Wohlers family that covered the floor of the front hallway of her home, with more in other rooms.

Holly and Tim McCormick live down the street from Wohlers and his family. They took them in, and at 4:00 a.m. Holly sent an email to everyone in the neighborhood telling them what happened and what the family lost. 

At dawn she opened her front door to find bags of needed items on the porch, already delivered, anonymously.

"Every fifteen minutes there's been another neighbor" bringing more bags of items the family needs.

Another group of neighbors worked out how they would take turns delivering dinner each night to the Wohlers family until they're able to move into a rental home.

"It's unbelievable." Holly said of how people are reaching out to help as soon as they hear of the need, without being asked. "It's incredible."

Wohlers said he's nearly speechless.

"Since like 1:00, 1:15 in the morning, our neighbors have just been coming out non-stop, and offering their help, and bringing stuff and clothes, it's truly been overwhelming."

Wohlers and his wife are in the real estate business.

He intends to re-build on the same lot.

He hopes fire investigators will be able to tell him soon what caused the fire.

"The way we [are able to] move forward, we just look at our children, we see that they're happy, that they're healthy, and we have everything that we love dear to our heart with us."


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