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. When you compare lightning with an average household electrical current of 120 volts and 15 amps, it’s easy to understand how devastating lightning can be to an unprotected home—and it only takes a single strike to ignite a devastating fire.
Because lightning is known for its capricious nature, as much as for its massive power, it’s hard to predict when, what and how it will strike. A few ways lightning’s destructive electricity can enter a building or home, include:
- 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
Amidst increased reports of lightning-sparked fires destroying property, killing pets, and more tragically, claiming lives (including the recent death of a 13-year veteran firefighter), LPI encourages property owners to investigate the benefits of safety standard-compliant lightning protection systems to mitigate this common weather threat. Lightning protection systems (LPS) that follow the guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) can 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.
Finally, as in any fire, including those sparked by lightning, seconds count and reaction is critical! So whether your proactive approach to lightning includes a lightning protection system or not, be sure that your family develops a home escape plan for fire and practices it. When the unexpected occurs—especially in the middle of the night, mere seconds can be the difference between a safe evacuation and a devastating, life-altering situation.