ST. GEORGE – As the storm clouds rolled in Thursday evening, thunder boomed overhead and streaks of lightning danced across the sky and also reached down to earth. Lightning is believed to have struck at least two homes in St. George Thursday night with one in Little Valley catching fire while the other in the Southgate area seemingly escaping any major damage.
Another possible round of thunderstorms has been forecast for the region Friday evening by National Weather Service.
According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes trigger an estimated 6,200 structure fires a year, with 4,400 of those being homes. Lightning causes around 25,000 fires over all, including the wildfires the Southern Utah region is prone to. The lightning-spawned fires also claim an average of 12 lives each year.
So what do you do if you’re at home and you believe your home may have just been blasted by lightning? The NWS offers the following advice:
- Evacuate your home immediately if you see fire or smoke and call 911.
- Call your local fire department and, if possible, have them check for hot spots in your walls with thermal imaging equipment.
- Make sure all smoke detectors are powered and operating properly.
- If needed, have a licensed electrician check the wiring in your home.
Around 8:20 p.m. Thursday, St. George resident Danny McKee was at his home on Windsor Way in the Southgate area when he heard a “huge clap of thunder.”
“All the lights in the house went off and I saw sparks come down from the chimney,” McKee said.
Believing his home had just been struck by lightning, he called 911 and got himself and his dog out of the house.
The St. George Fire Department responded to the scene and inspected around the home. While doing so, they checked the walls with thermal imaging devices to see if their were any hot spots building up in the walls.
“These guys are very thorough,” McKee said, adding he was grateful they were able to clear his home and didn’t find any signs of a fire. By this time, the majority of the lights came back on in the house except for a circuit that tripped and possibly fired by the lightning strike, he said.
The firefighter believed the lightning hit near a chimney vent, McKee said, which was the likely reason he saw sparks come down from the chimney.
After determining no fire had been ignited, the firefighters began to wrap up the scene when a new call for a fire across town came in just before 9 p.m. at the house fire on 3790 South that kept firefighters occupied for much of the night.
That fire is also believed to have been started by lightning.
NWS indoor lightning safety tips
- Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
- Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
- Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.
- Protect your pets: Dog houses are not safe shelters. Dogs that are chained to trees or on metal runners are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes.
- Protect your property: Lightning generates electric surges that can damage electronic equipment some distance from the actual strike. Typical surge protectors will not protect equipment from a lightning strike.
As for the power behind a lightning blast – and why you never want to be on the receiving end of one – a typical blast of Mother Nature’s electrical fury is about 300 million volts and 30,000 amps, according to the NWS.
“There is enough energy in a typical flash of lightning to light a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for about three months or the equivalent compact fluorescent bulb for about a year,” the NSW states on its lightning safety website.
Over all, lightning strikes in the United States about 25 million times a year and kills an average of 47 people a year.
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