Image: Lightning struck a two-story barn near Willis Sunday night.
By Jimmy Williams, Montgomery County Fire Marshal
Conroe, June 4 – Sunday evening proved to be Déjà vu for Montgomery County 911 Dispatchers and Firefighters as another round of severe storms moved through the County just as they did on Sunday afternoon two weeks ago. That round of storms on May 21st featured heavy rain and lightning leading to a number of vehicle water rescues and building fires, as compared to last night’s fast moving storms with much lesser total rainfall amounts due to their speed as they tracked across the area. Although flooding was not an issue, lightning and winds as high as 60 mph led to many downed trees and power outages and at least one weather related building fire.
Just as with last month’s severe weather, the progress of the storms across Montgomery County could easily be tracked by the increasing number of calls for service. The first 911 calls started coming in from northeast Montgomery County around 8:30 pm and then spread quickly all the way into the Magnolia area as high winds and lightning pounded the area.
A number of callers reported electrical lines and trees down, with at least one report of a tree falling on a car on FM 1485 near FM 3083. There were no serious injuries reported across the County, but at least one building was destroyed by a suspected weather-related fire.
A two story barn near Lake Conroe was fully involved upon arrival of firefighters. The barn’s owner reported that the power had went out during the storm and when it came back on he noticed that his barn was on fire. The exact cause of the fire is under investigation, but MCFMO Fire Investigators traced the origin of the fire back to near the building’s electrical service.
All told, 911 Dispatchers handled hundreds of weather related calls for service, keeping emergency responders busy throughout the rest of the night. Montgomery County’s Fire Departments employ an “Automatic Aid” system that dispatches the closest fire station to a call for help, regardless of jurisdiction. Last night’s weather event saw fire crews from all over the County seamlessly answering calls without delay, guided by dispatchers from the 911 call centers.
Although there were no significant injuries reported last night, each year roughly 30 people are struck and killed by lightning and many others suffer lifelong disabilities. Most of these tragedies can be prevented.
When thunderstorms threaten, get inside a building with plumbing and electricity, or a hard-topped metal vehicle! Many lightning victims say they were “caught” outside in the storm and couldn’t get to a safe place. Other victims simply waited too long before seeking shelter.
With proper planning, similar tragedies can be avoided. Some people were struck because they went back outside too soon. Stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder. While 30 minutes may seem like a long time, it is necessary to be safe. Finally, some victims were struck inside homes or buildings while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones. Others were in contact with plumbing, outside doors, or window frames. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors when a thunderstorm is nearby!
What to do if you suspect lightning has struck your home or business?
When lightning strikes a house, it can travel in any number of directions. Roofs often take a major hit, and fires can break out in the attic, growing unnoticed for some time until they are discovered. If you see or smell smoke, the first thing you should do is evacuate the home and call 911 from a safe location.
The surge usually takes the path of least resistance, which means electricity can run throughout all of the wiring and even plumbing in your home. Even if you do not see damage, you should consider contacting an electrician to inspect your home’s electrical systems. If you suspect that you have damage to your home, consider shutting off your electrical breakers and gas supply, and notify your insurance company.
After you make your initial emergency checks for roof damage and fire, you should inspect these elements to determine whether there is any damage:
- Check circuit breakers, outlets, and light switches for functionality
- Check appliances, shut off or unplug power if they appear damaged
- Test landline telephones to see whether they still work
- Test the pressure in water supply lines to identify any leaks