What Homeowners Need to Know about Lightning and its Fire Risk
October 8, 2017
In Support of National Fire Prevention Week, October 8-14
It’s the middle of the night when you and your family are awakened by a loud boom of a thunder-clap. Your windows rattle as you feel your house shake. Your instincts tell you your home has been struck by lightning, but what should you do?
“Anyone who suspects a lightning strike to their home should immediately check their enclosed spaces, like the attic and basement—even if the smoke alarm isn’t sounding and even if you don’t smell smoke,” said Georgia State Fire Marshal, Dwayne Garriss.
According to Garriss, lightning-sparked fires occur more often than people realize. Because lightning is the weather event that affects most people in most parts of the country, it’s important for homeowners to take the threat seriously and have a plan of action.
“A lingering acrid smell or fallen debris from damaged chimneys or shingles can be evidence of a lightning strike,” explained Garriss. “Since lightning fires aren’t always visible in their beginning stages, it’s important to investigate your property and call the fire department immediately.”
“Lightning is extreme electricity that can carry up to 300 million volts of energy,” said Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “When you compare lightning with an average household electrical current of 120 volts and 15 amps, you understand how devastating a lightning strike can be to an unprotected home.”
This past summer, lightning-sparked fires claimed the lives of homeowners and senior citizens in several U.S. states, including: New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Since it only takes a single lightning strike to ignite a devastating fire, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), created a new infographic to illustrate the numerous ways lightning can enter a home, including:
- Through a direct strike that can ignite fires or explode roofing, brick or concrete
- Via roof projections like weather vanes, antennas and satellite dishes
- Through a strike to a chimney or prominent roof dormer
- Via telephone or power lines that can harm internal wiring and electronic equipment
- Via surges or side flash delivered through a nearby tree
- Through home systems like garage doors or cable lines
- Via home amenities like irrigation systems, invisible fences and electric gates
- Through metallic lines, piping or CSST gas piping
The I.I.I. and LPI encourage property owners to investigate the benefits of a professionally-installed lightning protection system (LPS) to mitigate the lightning threat. Lightning protection systems that follow the guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provide a network of low-resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s dangerous electricity and direct it to ground without impact to the structure or its occupants.
LPI is a proud supporter of the NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, October 8-14, 2017. This year’s campaign theme, “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!” seeks to educate the public about the importance of developing a home escape plan and practicing it. In any fire, including those sparked by lightning, seconds count and can determine the difference between a safe escape or a tragedy.
“LPI is leading a ‘Build and Protect’ effort for lightning safety by providing important lightning protection resources for property owners, architects, engineers and construction planners,” explained VanSickle. “Taking a proactive mitigation approach can help prevent lightning-sparked fires at all types of structures.”
To learn more about this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out” and home escape planning, visit firepreventionweek.org.
LPI is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection and system requirements. Visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org for more information.