MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, GA -- During a recent thunderstorm in Albany July 20, a bolt of lightning stuck the roof of a Marine family's two-story home in Double Gate, igniting a fire.
Maj. Al Schachman, project officer for Headquarters Materiel Command here, and his family returned home about 2 p.m. after a morning of shopping, and were met by Albany firefighters as they pulled into the driveway. Smoke billowed from the house as firefighters finished dousing a portion of the flaming roof with water.
Before Schachman could ask what had happened a firefighter told him, "Mr. Schachman your house was struck by lightning."
Shocked and uncertain about how to respond, Schachman said his initial thought was, "this can't be happening to me."
"It looked like a monster took a bite right out of the roof," said Schachman, referring to damage caused by the fire.
Although only the roof was on fire, the water used to extinguish the blaze caused most of the damage to his home, said Schachman. Additional water damaged the home during the week that followed due to heavy rain.
According to Wendy Mykyten, Schachman's neighbor, the thunder and crack of the lightning was the loudest sound she ever heard. About 10 minutes later, she looked out the back window of her home and noticed thick smoke moving through her yard. She ran outside to investigate and realized Schachman's roof was on fire. She was about to call 911 when she saw a gentleman in front of the house on a cell phone, already talking to emergency personnel.
The Albany Fire Department responded within minutes, but when they arrived the fire had been burning approximately 15-20 minutes.
While firefighters hosed down the burning roof, other firefighters covered as many items in the house as possible with plastic tarps to protect them from the water. Due to the firefighters' extra effort, some items were saved.
"It was my son's birthday on the 21st, and the firefighters saw the wrapped presents that were out and got them off the ground and covered them," said Schachman.
The fire chief also suited Schachman up in protective gear and escorted him into the house to find a missing family member, Brownie, his daughter Sarah's teddy bear, which was miraculously in good condition. He also kept all his valuable possessions, such as negatives to family photos and important documents in a fireproof safe.
But with the hole in the roof and the amount of rain that fell the next week, a lot of water accumulated in Schachman's home. The first floor ceiling was soaked and collapsed.
Although the house is in bad shape, Schachman and his family still have a positive attitude about the disaster.
"Everything we lost is replaceable," said Schachman. "I'm just glad we weren't home when the lightning struck. It hit right over my daughter's bedroom. I have nightmares just thinking about what could've happened."
Since the incident, Schachman has had contractors working on the house to salvage what they can. The water damage is so severe that the house will be stripped down to the wooden frame, he said. Water is in the walls and if the insulation and drywalls are not taken out, whatever is wet will produce mold and could eventually rot. The only part of the house that survived the incident without damage was the garage.
The biggest problem Schachman and his family have had was just trying to devise a plan of action to recover from the incident.
"In the Marine Corps we have a certain procedure to follow for just about everything," said Schachman. "But there is nothing in writing to tell me who I should contact first and how to straighten everything out. This has been a real logistical nightmare."
Although Schachman was at first left in the dark, he contacted his insurance agent who offered some guidance.
Through the whole ordeal, the Schachmans received what he feels they needed the most, support from friends, family, the base and Albany community. Friends and neighbors have helped the family find a house and furniture to rent, so they have a place to call home until theirs is rebuilt. Rebuilding the house is scheduled to be finished in approximately six months.
"Many people and local congregations have offered to help, but at this time I just don't know what to tell them," said Schachman, who is grateful for the kind and generous people who have offered to help. "We need so many things I just don't know where to begin."
Although the family has lost their home, they have each other to help them through this unexpected event, he said. Years of being a military family and having to move to a new home frequently, has somewhat prepared them.
"The kids are used to moving around and living in an unfamiliar place," said Schachman.
With the worst part over, Schachman, his wife Kathi and children, David and Sarah, slowly replace the lost items. Although this incident was unexpected and has destroyed most of what they owned, Schachman said that later they might look back on this experience as a good one.