Lightning destroys beach stand - News - OCSentinel

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Lightning destroys beach stand


OCEAN CITY – A bolt of lightning set fire to a beachfront umbrella and chair concession stand at 13th Street on Wednesday afternoon, destroying its contents and terrifying some witnesses. 

Firefighters quickly doused the flames, helped by a torrential downpour that soon followed, flooding streets and helping clear the area. After the rain stopped, lifeguards had a tough time keeping beachgoers and the curious off the beach, which they kept clear for fear of additional strikes. 

The beach was almost empty at the time, according to Andrew Foreman, a witness who watched firefighters clean up the scene. He said the fire started slowly, with little more than a wisp of smoke to be seen before the flames quickly built. 

Within about 10 minutes, he said, Ocean City firefighters had the fire out. 

But not before the heavy beach umbrellas and wooden chairs offered for rent were destroyed. 

Kathy Townsend, the owner of Surf & Sand Beach Services, said there appeared to be nothing salvageable of the 40 or 50 folded beach chairs, which she described as steamer chairs, crowded under the stripped canvas. The stand itself and the umbrellas were little more than a pile of sticks, she said. 

Townsend was away from the stand on this rainy afternoon. She got a call from a neighboring concession stand. 

“She said, 'Kathy, your tent is on fire,'” Townsend said. 

There were no reported injuries. 

Townsend said her late brother, Jim Townsend, ran the beach rental business for decades and worked there before that. She had never seen or heard of a stand being hit by lightning. She took over the business after her brother’s death last summer. 

“It’s my brother’s business. I’m here for him. I just want something to keep his name alive in Ocean City,” she said. 

There were no reported injuries. 

The lightning struck at about 1:30 p.m. Nikolai Antonov, a lifeguard at the pool of the Beach Club Hotel on the boardwalk, saw it happen. 

“It was really scary, believe me,” he said. 

It had been raining through much of the day, but he had allowed people to use the pool because there had been no lightning or thunder, he said. When he heard the first rumblings in the distance, he said, he asked guests to clear the pool. 

Soon after, he said, he saw the strike. At first, he thought it hit out in the ocean until he saw the smoke. It was all the stranger because he had not seen any other lightning before or after on that day. 

Other witnesses said they heard a loud bang as soon as they saw the light from the bolt. 

When the rain stopped, guards continued to keep people off the beach as a safety precaution.