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Sun, Oct. 20

Lightning strikes more than twice in tri-city area

Courier/Les Stukenberg
A bolt of lightning cuts through the sheets of rain and strikes on the north side of Prescott during the afternoon thunderstorms that hit the tri-city area this past month.

Courier/Les Stukenberg A bolt of lightning cuts through the sheets of rain and strikes on the north side of Prescott during the afternoon thunderstorms that hit the tri-city area this past month.

Although people say lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice, local fire officials say the tri-city area gets a lot of lightning, and people should know what to do if it hits home (literally).

"Lightning does strange things," said Dave Mecca, fire inspector for the Prescott Fire Department, adding that its effects vary with each strike.

About a week ago, lightning struck the roof of an apartment building on Sandretto Drive in Prescott. The fire smoldered slowly for a couple of hours before a resident saw smoke and called the fire department.

"We get a lot of lightning in Arizona," said Charlie Cook, fire marshal for the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD).

Although Mecca said he doesn't believe the low occurrence of lightning striking homes in the tri-city area warrants spending money on a lightning rod, the rods are one way of preventing a strike from damaging a house.

If lightning does strike someone's house, Cook said, the person generally will hear a loud pop.

Cook lives in Dewey and lightning has struck his house twice. But lightning strikes will not always cause fires, he noted.

Mecca said "it could hit a house and cause no damage," but "on many occasions it will start a fire."

Often during lightning storms, the fire department receives multiple calls about buildings struck by lightning.

"Between 90 and 95 percent of the time with the fire alarms, it's because of a power outage," Mecca said.

During one lightning storm, Cook said, a bolt "blew a hole through the roof" of a house but it didn't cause a fire or electrical problems.

When lightning does cause fire, Cook said, "it does different things to different types of construction."

In the Sandretto Drive fire, Mecca said, the lightning struck the roof of an attic and went into the wires.

"It's just trying to get to the ground," he said. "It's going to find the path of least resistance."

Both Cook and Mecca said people can count seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder to determine how far away lightning is. If both occur almost instantaneously, Mecca said, people should stay inside and stay away from windows.

During storms, Cook said, people should avoid standing in open fields.

If a person hears lightning strike her house, she should get out of the house as soon as possible, Cook said. She either should use her cell phone or a neighbor's phone to call the fire department, but she should not go back inside, especially if she sees or smells smoke.

If a person even suspects lightning has struck his home, he should call the fire department just as a precaution, Mecca said, and allow fire personnel to check out the house and make sure nothing is on fire.

Both Cook and Mecca said lightning striking a home is relatively rare, but that it can happen anywhere. And, Cook said, "lightning season is coming up."

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