Only weeks after the death of her husband, Shirley Berg, owner of Creative Photo Photography Studio, held her dog and watched as smoke poured from the attic of her photo studio, gallery and home on Old Highway 63. Berg, along with several employees, was working inside the studio Thursday afternoon when lightning struck the attic.
Studio photographer Carl Neitzert was outside walking a customer to his car when he saw the lightning strike. “I saw a red ball of light on the roof, and realized it was setting the attic on fire,” he said.
Neitzert ran inside to tell everyone to get out of the building. They grabbed photos, cameras, and moved their cars away from the building, he said.
No one was injured, and employees did what they could to protect the most valuable property. This morning, the Columbia Fire Department estimated damage to the building at $150,000.
“The pictures are safe,” Neitzert said. “They were the first things to go, even before us.”
The building, at 2201 S. Old Highway 63, is insured, and Berg said she asked firefighters to retrieve several accounting books from the studio.
Berg’s husband, Roger Berg, died on June 20 from lung cancer. He was a celebrated Columbia photographer and an owner of Columbia Photo Supply. The studio, built in 2001, included the basement home where Berg lives with her Pekingese, named Baby.
“We should be all right,” Berg said. “Besides the mess and trying to figure things out.”
Fire investigators determined that lightning was the probable cause of the blaze.
The fire department worked to stop the spread of the fire throughout the whole attic. Within 35 minutes of the strike, the south slope of the roof had become a blackened gaping hole.
The fire was contained within an hour by cutting ventilation holes in the roof, Battalion Chief Gary Warren said. Although the fire burned during the peak of Thursday afternoon’s downpour, it was no help.
“It would have to be a torrential downpour to be of any aid to us,” Warren said.
Tony Lupo, an atmospheric scientist at MU, said that the weather station at Columbia Regional Airport recorded .94 inches of rain in slightly over one hour.
Lightning from the storm left 88 people without power for an hour, said George Hessenbreuch of the Columbia Municipal Power Plant. The National Weather Service in St. Louis recorded 335 lighting strikes from the weather system that stretched across Missouri.