Lightning Safety for the Home

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Lightning causes approximately 17,400 fires each year in the United States. Peak season begins in June, so now is the time to learn how to protect your home and loved ones with these lightning safety tips.

It took firefighters six days to gain control of a wildfire that burned more than 70,600 acres in Southern California’s Mojave National Preserve, located about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 40 miles west of the Nevada border.

Five separate blazes were sparked by lightning on Wednesday, June 22, 2005. They soon merged to create a major wildfire, which was finally contained at 6 p.m. Monday, June 27. Because the area is remote, only five homes, six trailers, two cabins and a few other buildings were destroyed, but families were forced to evacuate.

More than 900 firefighters battled what Capt. Greg Cleveland of the Southern California Incident Management Team called “the largest fire on record within the 1.6-million-acre preserve,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Thousands of acres of dry grass, juniper, sagebrush and piñon–bushy and overgrown after last winter’s record rainfall–were quickly engulfed as strong winds fanned flames. When the winds started to die down on Sunday, firefighters caught the break they needed.

A Summertime Jolt

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that lightning causes 17,400 fires each year, with an average of 10 deaths, 75 injuries and $138 million in property damage. Two-thirds of these disasters occur between June and August (25 percent in July alone). Most lightning strikes occur outdoors, igniting brush, grass and other materials; 41 percent hit homes and interior structures, zapping roofs, sidewalls, framing and electrical wires with up to 100 million volts of electricity. The overwhelming majority of casualties (89 percent) are caused by structure fires. In fact, a 2003 Insurance Research Council survey revealed that 25 percent of homeowner claims cite lightning or hail as the cause of their losses.

Lightning Safety Tips for Homeowners

As a homeowner, you can take preventive measures, says Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), a nonprofit group based in St. Joseph, Mo., that promotes lightning safety, awareness and education.
“Home and business owners needn’t take their chances with lightning,” he says. “A professionally installed lightning protection system that meets U.S. safety standards will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy.”

LPI provides a list of certified U.S. contractors on its website. Before hiring a consultant, follow the institute’s guidelines:

  • Make sure materials and methods comply with nationally recognized safety standards of the LPI, National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL).
  • Only an experienced and reputable UL-listed, LPI-certified lightning protection contractor should install your system. Other tradesmen are typically unqualified to install lightning protection.
  • Check references. A qualified specialist should provide a list of references and affiliations with industry groups.
  • Ask about surge protection. Lightning-induced surges to your home or business can damage electronics and appliances. A qualified lightning protection contractor can provide options for service entrance arresters and point-of-use surge protection devices.
  • Experience counts. Be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair your lightning protection system. Compare their prices and quality with other lightning protection companies in your area.
  • When in doubt, contact your local Better Business Bureau to obtain reliability report information on a company or contractor before you hire.

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