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Fire destroys Hempfield house, but family escapes unharmed

Tim O'Donnell was talking on the phone with his wife when a loud clap of thunder sounded over the line Monday afternoon.

"We both heard it," said O'Donnell, a Westmoreland County deputy coroner who was at work at the time. "She said, 'It sounds like it hit the house.'"

So O'Donnell told his wife, Cindy, to go outside and inspect their Hempfield home for any signs of a lightning strike. She returned to the phone and said she couldn't see any problems.

Fifteen minutes later, Cindy O'Donnell called her husband back, this time screaming that their home of 31 years was on fire after being alerted to it by a neighbor.

And while their home sustained significant damage in the blaze, the O'Donnells said they are thankful that the fire didn't take any lives.

"It's an act of God. Something I can't control," Tim O'Donnell said. "Everybody's fine."

Adamsburg fire Chief Don Thoma said a township fire investigator is trying to determine the cause of the fire at 115 Brush Creek Road, which was reported at 3:42 p.m.

He said lightning was a possible cause.

"It happened at the height of the storm," said Thoma. "I was driving home in the middle of it. It was thunder and lightning all over the place."

The fire appears to have started in the two-bay garage attached to the two-story home, Thoma said. From there, the fire spread into the attic of the main living space.

Thoma said the fire was hot and spread fast.

"I could feel the heat through the window (of the ladder truck)," Thoma said. "It was so hot I had to stop."

The garage was destroyed. The home itself is still standing but suffered significant interior damage, Thoma said.

Tim O'Donnell said the home is likely a total loss. Only his wife, and daughter, Briana, 20, were home at the time, and they escaped when their neighbor came to the door to warn them of the blaze.

Their son, Liam, 25, who also lives there, was at work at the time. Firefighters were able to save Liam's turtles, which live in the basement.

The family's guard dog, a German shepherd, also survived the fire, though he startled the neighbor who had come to raise the alarm about the fire.

"The neighbor opened the door to yell, 'Fire,' and he grabbed on her, but she's OK," O'Donnell said.

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