Fatal Fire


Lightening strikes a home in Gretna, tearing apart a family and causing serious damage. Investigators spent most of Sunday mopping up the scene looking for answers.

Diplomas still decorate the wall, symbols of what's left, after tragedy struck the Erwin family early Sunday morning.

"When we got here the house already engulfed with smoke," said SGT. Ronnie Williams of the Gretna Police Department.

The fire happened around 1:50 a.m., when thunderstorms rocked through the streets of Gretna, in Gadsden County.

"I heard a loud boom," said Michael Fluker, a neighbor, "lightening had hit."

Police say it hit near the fuse box in Erwin's mobile home on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Mr. Erwin and his 38-year-old son escaped the smoke and ran outside. But, the other two adult sons never made it out, despite their father's attempts to break through the walls with an ax.

"From outside it doesn't look that bad, inside is where some was thick enough for them to have trouble breathing," said Gretna Police Chief, Pepe Forbes.

Investigator's say Erwin's three sons were mentally disabled and Erwin was in a state of panic.

Police believe these three factors combined with Mother Nature's wrath created a very unfortunate tragedy in Gretna, and left a family torn apart.

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Lightning Safety Tips

  • When a thunderstorm carrying heavy lighting occurs, staying indoors is your safest solution.

  • If caught outside, do not stand underneath a tall isolated tree or on a hill top. Find the lowest place, such as a ravine or valley.

  • Stay away from open water, wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes and rails.

  • Lightning may strike many miles from the parent cloud. Precautions should be taken even though the thunderstorm is not directly overhead.

  • If you are caught in a level field or prairie far from shelter and if you feel your hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike you. Drop to your knees and bend forward, putting you hands on your knees. Do not lie flat on the ground.

First Aid for Lightning strikes

  • Persons struck by lightning receive a severe electrical shock and may be burned, but they carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely.

  • Someone who appears to have been killed by lightning often can be revived by prompt action. When a group has been struck, the apparently "dead" should be treated first.
  • The American Red Cross says that if a victim is not breathing, you should immediately begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, once every 5 seconds to adults and once every 3 seconds to infants and small children, until medical help arrives.

Fact Vs. Myth

  • Myth: Lightning Never Strikes the same place twice.
    Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly.

  • Myth: If it’s not raining, I am safe from lightning.
    Fact: Lightning often strikes over three miles form the thunderstorm, far outside the rain.

  • Myth: Rubber tires protect you from lightning in a car by insulating you from the ground.
    Fact: It is not the tires that protect you, rather it is the metal roof and metal sides that protect you.

  • Myth: If in the house, I am safe from lightning.
    Fact: While a house is a good place for lightning safety, it isn’t enough. You must also avoid any conducting path leading outside, such as cored telephones, plumbing, electrical appliance, wires, TV cables, metal doors or window frames, or windows.

Source: Oahu Civil Defense Agency contributed to this report.