Fort Worth

‘Every hair on my body stood up.’ Witnesses recount lightning strike that left crater

As she stood squarely between metal scaffolding and a metal fence early Wednesday morning, Alex Heresz all of a sudden felt what seemed to be a static electric shock surging through her body.

The 35-year-old Fort Worth woman, even if she didn’t know it yet, was responding to an impending lightning strike.

“Right before the lightning hit, I felt every hair on my body stand up on end,” Heresz said.

She then saw the bolt — a beam of bright light she compared to the spark of an old-timey camera flash. At the same moment she heard a thundering boom, which she could only describe as like standing right next to an 18-wheeler when one of its tires blows out.

She took off running through her friend’s backyard, crouched low, seeking the safety of a travel trailer with rubber tires touching the ground. When she emerged from the trailer moments later, she saw billows of smoke and a hazy orange light, which soon went away. She walked to the Chevron gas station near where the lightning struck.

There, she found out about the highly rare, highly unusual event that had just taken place — the bolt left a 15-foot-by-15-foot hole in the parking lot of Chevron and other businesses that went about 4 feet deep.

“I was supposed to be walking that way this morning,” said Heresz, who’s been regularly checking up on her friend’s property after a house fire a few months ago forced her to move. “I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I decided to take my time.”

Large explosion caught on video

The lightning strike about 5 a.m. sent chunks of concrete about 6 to 8 inches thick soaring across the parking lot in northwest Fort Worth near Lake Worth, according to Mike Drivdahl, a Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman. One mass of concrete roughly 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall landed about 75 feet away from the crater.

There were no reported injuries as a result of the lightning strike, however, and the Chevron convenience store was closed at the time, as it opens at 6 a.m.

The bizarre weather incident left city residents like Heresz thankful the lightning strike didn’t hit a building and Chevron attendant Kelley Smith feeling like “we were so lucky we were closed,” she said.

Drivdahl was a little flabbergasted at what he had witnessed, he said.

He’s never seen anything quite like it.

“That is, by far, the largest explosion that I’ve seen from a lightning strike,” Drivdahl said.

The bolt hit the strip mall parking lot in the 4500 block of Boat Club Road at 5:09 a.m., according to surveillance video from Chevron provided by Smith. In the video, a sudden flash of light blasts into the ground followed by an explosion that rocks the parking lot. Debris and smoke is sent high into the air.

The lightning strike happened as storms producing lightning and loud cracks of thunder loomed over Fort Worth.

Drivdahl said there was one house fire Wednesday morning in the 7000 block of Sanctuary Heights Road that fire department officials think was caused by a lightning strike. There were no injuries, he said, and the fire was contained to the attic.

‘Like a bomb’

Smith said she noticed something odd had happened outside the Chevron when her son drove her into work around 5:40 a.m. Concrete and rebar scattered the parking lot.

“I thought somebody was working on the parking lot,” Smith said. “It looked like a bomb ... I thought we went into a war zone.”

She saw one car run over a concrete chunk and then drag it through the parking lot, as it became attached to the undercarriage. She suggested to the driver that he use a jack to raise the car off the ground.

She reached out to management at the Chevron and someone called 911.

It initially looked like there had been an explosion, Drivdahl said, but they discovered it was a lightning strike while reviewing the surveillance video. They made sure the bolt didn’t hit any gas lines and moved any concrete chunks that presented hazards toward the larger piles of debris.

The station is private property, Drivdahl said, and cleanup is the responsibility of the business.

“That will all be the gas station,” he said.

Heresz, who frequents the gas station as well as the nearby Ann’s Donuts, initially thought the lightning hit the doughnut shop, and she was glad to find out it didn’t.

The boom hurt her ears and scared her a bit, she admitted.

But, all in all, she said it could’ve been worse.

“I’ve never ever in my life been that close to a lightning strike,” she said. “Every hair on my body, I swear, stood up on end. It felt weird.”

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Jack Howland is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. Before coming to the Star-Telegram in May 2019, he worked for two and a half years as a breaking news reporter at the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.