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Judge Gates Peed's home burns after being struck by lightning

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Posted: June 26, 2008 9:37 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    A storm rumbled through the Statesboro area the night of June 17, dropping precious rain on the area but also bringing tragedy to a family. Along with the life-giving rain came a lightning bolt that set the home of Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed on fire.
    Firefighters were quick on the scene and doused the flames, but hours later, in spite of precautions, the fire caught up again, and it was too late.
    Peed was home with his family — his wife and two of his sons, one home on a visit from West Point. His oldest son was at work at the Bulloch County Jail.
    The family was watching a movie in their home when the storm erupted around 8 p.m., a wild but brief deluge that drenched the dry land but also brought lightning and thunder.
    “It was a tremendous rain,” he said. “The best rain we’ve had in two or three months.”
     Brief power outages popped up across town, and when Peed heard a loud pop, he thought lightning had struck a transformer.
    He went outside to look, but then realized he still had power, so it could not be the transformer. He inspected the house and yard and saw nothing unusual.
    But as he walked inside, his wife walked into the kitchen. A few minutes later she called to him, having noticed “embers coming down from above.”
    “She said ‘something’s on fire,’” he said.
    Peed ran outside and around to the front part of his home, which was actually two separate houses joined together by a breezeway turned laundry room. The two-story house had an attic on top, with a gable at its apex. What Peed saw was frightening.
    “Flames were already licking, coming out from the very top,” he said.
    The attic had no electrical wiring, so the fire had yet to affect the house’s power source. Peed grabbed a hose, but the fire was too high. “There was no way to throw water that high with a hose pipe,” he said.
    He yelled for his family to get out of the house. His wife called 911, but the fire grew higher, feeding on the house made entirely of cedar and pine. Peed ran upstairs and opened the attic door, but the attic was so smoke-filled he could not tell anything except that the fire was high up in the roof.
    Peed drove to the top of a hill so as to direct Statesboro firefighters to his home, and they arrived quickly, he said.
    “They soaked the house, went through it with infrared (technology to detect heat) and soaked it again, then did it again,” he said. “I can’t say enough good about the fire department, law enforcement, everybody that was involved.”
    The second part of the house was left standing, as firefighters and Ellis Wood helped push the burned part of the home away from the yet unharmed portion.
    Peed and his family went a short distance down the road to stay with family, and a deputy was left behind to watch the home for flare-ups. But hours later, Peed was awakened by his son who had gone back to work at the jail.
    Rushing out the door, he saw smoke. “The flames were above the trees,” he said. The fire had somehow reignited, and when he saw the huge blaze, “I knew it was gone.”
    Firefighters returned and did what they could, but it wasn’t enough. The rear portion of the house was charred and damaged to the point that it could not be salvaged, and the front portion of the house, which had been burned beyond salvation, was completely destroyed.
    All from a single lightning bolt.
    But it could have been worse, Peed said.
    “It was a tremendous blessing,” he said, a week after losing his home and most everything inside. “It could have happened at midnight and we’d have all been dead.”
    Peed said his family has been overwhelmed by the generosity and compassion from people they don’t even know. “Folks have been calling and praying and giving, and a lot of these folk don’t know me from Adam,” he said.
    Another blessing is the family already has a place to live. Peed’s mother, who is now in assisted living, had a house just down the road from his home, and the family moved right in.
    “It’s familiar surroundings,” he said. “Where I grew up, and we’re not displacing anybody else or living out of a hotel. We’re just extremely fortunate to be able to do that.”
    Still, losing things like the family Bible and sentimentally valuable heirlooms is a blow, and the family is still reeling. But Peed said knowing people care and seeing how emergency responders and others did so much to help has made the devastating incident easier to bear.
    When asked whether his family has unmet needs, Peed said his family has “an abundance” through the blessings of others and family, including  having a home ready for the family to go just a mile down the road.
    And, “We’ve still got the memories, and are grateful we’re alive,” he said.
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