A decades-old South Carolina mansion burned to the ground due to a lightning strike on Sunday as family members tried desperately to reach police for an hour and a half — only to learn that another strike damaged the 911 cell tower, reports say.
Keith Guest, his wife, Stephanie, and their two children expected police to arrive after a lightning strike started a fire on the roof of their 89-year-old $1.7 million mansion on Lady’s Island, according to WSAV. He said he put out a smaller fire upstairs in the home, only to see flames coming from the roof.
“I kept thinking, ‘Well they’ll show up any minute. They’ll show up, they’ll show up. I know they’ll be here in five minutes,’ ” Guest recalled to WSAV. “Then an hour goes by and I’m thinking, ‘Oh they’ll be here any minute.’ An hour and 15 minutes goes by… we just could not get through to them.”
As it turns out, another lightning strike hit the county’s 911 cell tower around the same time, WSAV reported. The shock damaged a router, blocking 911 dispatch calls from Hampton, Jasper and Beaufort counties. Guest and his family watched for more than hour as the nearly 100-year-old home burned to the ground.
“Luckily for us, a fireman who was out on his boat … going down the river, and he saw the house was in flames, and he knew the direct number to the fire station,” Guest said. However, by time authorities with the Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District arrived 10 minutes later, it was too late.
“It started collapsing and they had to back away for their own safety,” Guest told WSAV. “There wasn’t anything they could do.”
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Guest and his wife had done a lot of work on the property, which had been unoccupied for 10 years before they bought it, according to the Island Packet. The couple added a wing and Guest ran his medical practice out of the massive home.
“It was an amazing property that you could tell had been well-built and well-loved,” Stephanie told the Packet. “We had been renovating the house constantly for the last eight years.”
The home was 7,800 square feet and was built in 1929, according to The Beaufort Gazette. By Monday, the lavish home’s signature white columns were laid out on the lawn, according to the publication.
The home was originally the dwelling of Arthur Barnwell, a descendant of Col. John Barnwell, a founder of Beaufort, South Carolina. He made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange and built the “playhouse” after retiring at 55. Over the years, the home became associated with rumors of Arthur’s many “showgirls.”
In the past, the home was the site of headline-making soirees.
“The parties would last for weeks,” Pat Branning, who had owned the mansion at one point. “They were lavishly entertained.”