A vacant home in The Point neighborhood of Beaufort caught fire late Wednesday and destroyed much of the upper portion of the house.
Neighbors said the house's new owners, who live in New York, had just purchased the home at 505 Prince St. last week. Fire officials suspect lightning caused the fire.
Neighbors reported the fire just after 11 p.m., Deputy Fire Chief Clay Scoggins of the Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Department said. When the first firetruck arrived a few minutes later, flames were shooting from the roof, he said.
Firefighters battled the flames from the front and side, using a neighbor's back porch to gain closer access. A large tree in the front yard hindered use of a ladder truck. Firefighters took hoses through the front door to shoot water into the attic and also climbed ladders outside to shoot water down on it.
"It was a little hairy for a bit because a roof is designed to keep water out, so it wasn't going where we needed it to go," Scoggins said.
The fire was out by about 11:45 p.m., but firefighters remained until after 3:30 a.m. to guard against flare-ups and to begin an investigation.
Flames were concentrated in the attic, Scoggins said. Capt. John Robinson said several layers of insulation, flooring and attic materials created fire hazards, even after the flames were extinguished. Sections of the roof were at risk of falling, making it difficult for firefighters to get to all areas of the house.
There were as many as 70 lightning strikes Wednesday in the Beaufort area, according to Fire Chief Sammy Negron. One struck within 25 meters of the home at 3:41 p.m., he said.
Neighbors said that around that time they heard a loud bang and smelled smoke, but did not know where it came from.
"Our firefighters worked hard to contain the fire, which is a tremendous concern in the historic district, where sometimes the homes are so close together and fire can jump from lot to lot," Negron said.
The house was built in 1920, according to Beaufort property records. Historic Beaufort Foundation lists it as a "contributing structure," meaning it adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district unique.
The Burton Fire District, Beaufort County EMS and the Beaufort Police Department were also on the scene.
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