Darr Hatch looks after the home while the absentee owner is gone, which is most of the time, and noticed the lawn was looking a little brown. Upon investigation he noticed there was no power to the breaker box, and further examination revealed soot and ash inside the box. That is when he realized that the power pole behind the house had been hit by lightning, which damaged the breaker box.
When an electrical contractor was called in to replace the damaged breaker box it turned out to be a lot more of a job than originally thought. The lightning traveled through the box and went underground toward a breaker box inside the home, but blasted through the conduit, where it makes a 90-degree turn, thus saving the box inside. Apparently, electricity, like water, doesn’t like to make turns at high speed, so instead of making the turn it simply blasted through the side of the metal conduit and fried the wire.
The contractor had to cut through the concrete driveway to replace the conduit and wire to the inside breaker box. Had the electrical surge traveled to the inside breaker box, a house fire would have probably resulted, causing a lot more damage than what was already done. The incident really emphasizes the power of these lightning strikes and the damage they can do sometimes when they come in contact with homes and other buildings and electrical poles, not to mention the fires they start when they come in contact with dry grass.
I was watching the television with much interest Tuesday afternoon when the lightning-caused Rockport Fire in Summit County exploded into an inferno that consumed well over 400 acres of dry grass, sage and gambrel oak. In a very short time the fire, which was fanned by strong winds and high temperatures, spread to the small community of Wanship and several subdivisions that dotted the rough landscape. Some people had very little time to grab a few things and evacuate to safer locations as they watched the fire from a distance and wondered if they would have a home when they returned. At the time, four homes were confirmed destroyed and that number could possibly reach as many as 15 homes.
The amazing pictures that were transmitted back by KSL’s Chopper 5 showed several interesting things, including a “firenado,” or a fire whirl that looked similar to a tornado. The slender column of smoke and fire reached hundreds of feet in the air and the helicopter pilot reported seeing ash at his altitude of 5,000 feet above the fire. A hot fire can create its own weather and can create some freaky occurrences like a fire devil and other weird things.
Another interesting fact was that, according to the newscasters, some of the homes were “miraculously” spared when the fire went around them. Actually, the only miraculous thing about it was that the homes had an adequate clearing around them and they were saved because of it. Other homes were saved because fire officials were able to get a couple of small planes with fire retardant in the air and lay a barrier of the slurry between the home and the oncoming fire.
The retardant was really effective in slowing and even stopping the fire’s advances. The fire resources are currently stretched very thin because of the eight fires in northern Utah and the fact that many of our Utah firefighters are away fighting fires in California and Idaho because Utah had a wet July and they were not needed here.
While I was watching the events of the Rockport Fire unfold, I was comparing that situation with our own little community of Castle Valley and how, under the right circumstances, a similar event could occur here. We need to look around our own yards and see if we need to do some clearing, thinning, and limbing to make our homes safer in the event of a catastrophic wildfire. Leave a message at the Castle Valley Fire Department at 435-259-3655 and we can send a person from the State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to offer some suggestions on how to make your home and surroundings more fire safe.
And while you are clearing and thinning, you can take those tree limbs out to the road or other convenient place next to your driveway and have them chipped into usable mulch. The chipper, which is manned by crews from the State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, will be in the valley Sept. 16 and 17 to do the chipping. Call Alison Lurch, National Fire Plan, Sovereign Lands Coordinator at 435-210-0362 to register for the free service.