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Lightning likely cause of Manchester apartment building fire

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 23. 2014 10:32PM

A Manchester firefighter hands a kitten to Nastja Rebrin, whose 303 Jewett St. apartment was likely struck by lightning Wednesday night. (TIM BUCKLAND/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Nastja Rebrin thought it was strange, but wasn’t alarmed, when she heard a “giant, loud snapping noise” Wednesday night.

But minutes later, she was running out in the pouring rain wearing a white tank top, shorts and clutching her dog, her 303 Jewett St. apartment filling with smoke after being struck by lightning shortly before 9:30 p.m.

She tried to go back to rescue her two kittens, “but by the time I went in, everything was filled with smoke. I didn’t have time to go back in there and I couldn’t breathe.”

She cried with delight about 10 minutes later, when a firefighter handed her a screaming kitten; firefighters on the scene said they were confident the other cat was alive and would be found.

District Fire Chief Jim Michael said fire officials believe the blaze was caused by a lightning strike.

“It seems like the most likely scenario,” he said.

Fire Chief James Burkush said fire crews encountered “multiple areas of fire” on the two-story apartment building’s second floor. The fire was under control before 10 p.m., he said.

The blaze displaced eight people, including Kevin Bitar, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences student who shares the apartment with Rebrin and another student.

He said he was at school at the time of the lightning strike, and came home to find several fire trucks outside his apartment and crews spraying water into his home.

“There’s a great big hole where my window used to be,” he said.

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