Lightning strikes kill as many people annually as tornadoes and hurricanes combined, according to a study by the U.S. Fire Administration.
The U.S. has averaged 54 deaths resulting from lightning every year, according to the National Weather Service. This year, 17 people have died as a result of lightning. A 52-year-old Peachtree City man has been the only Georgia victim. Reports show he was fishing when he was struck by lightning while standing under a tree by a boat ramp July 13.
Since 2011, the Joseph M. Still Burn Center has treated two patients who have been struck by lightning and one patient who was burned in a fire that resulted from a strike. Medical College of Georgia Hospital has also treated two patients since July 2011.
A lightning strike Monday sent a charge through electrical lines at Columbia County’s emergency response center, damaging clocks, phones, computers and radio consoles. Pam Tucker, the county’s Emergency and Operations Division Director, said the damage wasn’t noticed until Tuesday, when she and other employees noticed several clocks had stopped and computers were malfunctioning.
Lightning, which can carry more than 30 million volts, is blamed for more than $138 million in property damage every year, and July is the month with the greatest number of fires attributed to strikes.
The Fire Administration estimates that more than 17,000 fires every year are attributed to lightning, resulting in death and property loss. Georgia ranks 12th in the country for the number of strikes.
“If lightning strikes, there’s no rhyme or reason for where it hits or how it hits,” said Richmond County Fire Chief Deputy Sterling Jones.
Local fire departments said they frequently respond to grass and structure fires that could be the result of a strike, but positively determining that cause is difficult.
Jones said some agencies have software that can determine whether a fire is the result of a strike, but the Richmond County department does not use it. The only way for local fire investigators to make that determination is if someone sees the strike or a burned fuse panel is found.