Fortunately, other than limited electrical damage, there were no injuries or fires sparked when a lightning bolt hit near a Fruitvale home on Sunday.
John Piccolo and his two children were across the street in their driveway when they heard a deafening boom at around 2:30 p.m.
Immediately following the jarring bang, Piccolo, who was standing about 50 feet away, saw the strike fork into orange as it split a large tree and then showered the house in bright blue sparks.
“We just had a hail storm, large hail about the size of nickels,” Piccolo began. “That is the reason I was out there because I was contemplating covering the sun roof of my vehicle, I had tarps in my hand … So I was facing the lightning when it hit and it was so loud our ears were ringing for an hour. It was terrifying.”
Right after the shock and awe, he quickly crossed the street to give his elderly neighbour a hand.
“She was home, and there was smoke in the house,” Piccolo recounted. “So I got her out immediately and to a neighbour, then called the fire department.”
Piccolo says the regional fire crew, FortisBC, and an electrical contractor were called to the property, and hours later the woman was able to return home.
While a fire was not sparked, the lightning affected the electrical panel and kitchen stove, causing the smell of smoke.
“My kids were very scared,” he said. “They still are. It doesn’t sound like thunder when it’s that close, it’s just a great big bang.”
Whether there’s the smell of smoke or not, Piccolo’s actions exemplify what homeowners/tenants should do in the event of a lightning strike.
“First, make sure everyone is okay, then evacuate your home immediately and find shelter close by if there is lightning in the area, ” Kootenay Boundary Fire Chief Dan Derby told the Trail Times. “Then call 9-1-1 and tell dispatch what has happened. You need to do this regardless whether you’re detecting either a fire hazard or a fire.”
The fire department will attend, and use thermal imaging cameras and other devices to check the building for damage, Derby said.
“A lightning strike will travel the path of least resistance (such as) your electrical system and water systems. It can do damage to your electrical and/or your plumbing, especially in older homes where there are metal pipes.”
He says the three key risks associated with lightning strikes are fire, power surge damage, and shock wave damage.
“Fire could be in your attic, or could be in the walls,” Derby explained. “And in today’s world so many things are electronic, so power surges can cause damage to your (appliances), as an example.”
The third risk refers to the power of a strike causing fractures in the structural foundation.
“This hit in Fruitvale was felt blocks away,” said Derby. “So it was a pretty significant strike, that, for example, could easily fracture concrete, brick, and cinder block.
“So that’s why you would want to reach out to your insurance right away, make sure everything is okay, and go down the road of a claim. To look after your asset, your home.”
According to the Government of Canada, the country averages over two million lightning strikes each year.
“And, despite our relatively short lightning season, nine to 10 people are killed and between 100 to 150 are injured each year by lighting in Canada,” the government states.