Campaign touts lightning safety, home protection

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With wildfires raging around Colorado, there is understandably a focus on the serious threat they pose to life and property.

But one threat that gets some of the least attention does some of the worst damage. Lightning kills more people in Colorado each year than any other weather phenomenon, with 91 people having died since 1980. The numbers are elevated in part because of the state’s active population, with much of the activity taking place in the most unsafe place to be during a storm: outdoors.

The South Metro Fire Rescue Authority held a press conference June 21 along with representatives from the Lightning Safety Alliance, the Lightning Protection Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They were calling attention to Lightning Awareness Week, a campaign meant to educate the public about the dangers of lightning in the hopes of saving lives and protecting property.

“There is nothing more important to us,” said Dan Qualman, chief of South Metro Fire Rescue.

Lightning causes approximately $1 billion in property damage annually across the U.S., and the focus of this year’s Lightning Awareness Week, from June 23-29, was to highlight the importance of lightning protection systems for both residential and commercial structures.

The press conference took place at South Metro’s station 45, on Northgate Drive in Parker, where a protection system has been installed. Surprisingly, some fire stations have been without the lightning strike mitigation systems because of budget cuts. A direct strike could potentially blow out the communications system.

Kim Loehr, communications director for the nonprofit Lightning Protection Institute, said lightning is an “underrated threat” and a strike to a home can be disastrous. She said rods on the protection systems do not attract lightning, as some believe, but rather provide a pathway to the ground.

South Metro responds to dozens of lightning strikes to homes each year, some that spark attic fires that get out of control.  There is also a risk of explosions and damage to a building’s electrical system, not to mention electronics that are plugged in.

The Lightning Safety Alliance recently partnered with the insurance and construction industries to find ways to mitigate risks to buildings. A lightning protection system for a home costs $1,500 to $3,000, which is comparable to a home security system, Loehr said. A system for a commercial structure costs around $5,000 to $7,000.

Lightning, by the numbers

•           500,000 lightning strikes in Colorado each year

•           91 killed by lightning in Colorado since 1980

•           $1 billion in damage nationally each year

•           Insurance claims from residential lightning strikes average $5,100

•           The Empire State Building is struck 25-40 times per year

*Source: The Lightning Protection Institute and Lightning Safety Alliance