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They say lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, but don’t tell that to Zach Pagel and his family.

A fire marshal told Pagel that two lightning strikes on the evening of June 1 — part of a burst of more than 115 strikes that hit in a 1-square-mile area — caused a fire that destroyed a centuries-old home on Big Spring Road, midway between Newville and Stoughstown. Pagel and his family escaped with their dog Finn and the clothes on their back, but are grateful everyone avoided injury.

“We have everything we need, and that’s each other,” Pagel said.

Pagel, Shannon Heckman and their three children were home in the middle of a thunderstorm at 9:22 p.m. when one bang of thunder was louder than the rest.

“We felt it rock the home,” Pagel said.

Two of the children discovered that the house was on fire. At the time, the family did not know that two separate lightning bolts had struck the home. 

When fire crews arrived, those crews faced their own challenges. There was limited access to the rural home in the 600 block of Big Spring Road due to a bridge, and firefighters had to bring hoses up to the house by hand, the South Newton Township Fire Company said in a Facebook post. Storms with lightning and thunder continued as firefighters battled the blaze, Pagel said.

At least nine fire companies responded, according to the Newville Valley Times-Star, including Friendship Hose, South Newton Township, Newburg-Hopewell, Vigilant Hose, Cumberland Valley Hose, West End, Penn Township, West Pennsboro Township and Upper Frankford Township.

Fire crews continued to work until Sunday morning and returned later that day for additional work, the South Newton Township Fire Company said. When the smoke cleared, the home was a total loss.

While it hasn’t been an easy week for Pagel and his family, he and Heckman said they are very thankful for everyone who has assisted them. That includes firefighters and other first responders, neighbors, friends and family, churches, the Red Cross, veterans’ associations, and even strangers, Pagel said.

“We’ve gotten what is to us an overwhelming amount of support,” he said.

Heckman is a reading teacher at the Grace B. Luhrs University Elementary School in Shippensburg, while Pagel is a business consultant and a disabled veteran. The home in which they lived was built in the mid- to late 1700s.

The family has obtained temporary housing while they search for short-term rental options.

If anyone would like to donate to the family, they can use a Go Fund Me page created on the family’s behalf or send donations to the Family of Five Fire Fund, P.O. Box 124, Newville, PA, 17241.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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