In Support of Fire Prevention Week, October 4-10, 2020
According to a recent fire loss report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 339,500 home fires were reported in the U.S. in 2019. These home fires caused 2,770 civilian deaths, 12,200 civilian injuries and $7.8 billion in direct property damage. Additional fire data cites cooking as the leading cause of home fires, with almost half (44%) of reported home fires started in the kitchen.
Although not as common as cooking fires, lightning-sparked home fires—especially those that occur in the darkness of night, can be difficult to recognize and detect. Even in the light of day, lightning fires aren’t always visible in their initial stages. It’s not unusual for a lightning fire to originate in enclosed spaces like the attic, basement or electrical panels. Common signs that a home has been struck by lightning include:
- A power outage
- Presence of sparks or smoldering fire
- An acrid odor or pungent smell (ozone) similar to melting plastic
- Physical damage to the structure or surrounding property
- Appliances or electronics that have shut down or turned on suddenly
- Lighting that appears to be dimming, flickering or burned out
- A humming or buzzing sound
Lightning poses a serious fire threat to unprotected homes, since a single strike can deliver 300 million volts of electricity and 30,000 amps. Compared to a household electrical current of 120 volts and 15 amps, lightning’s mega electricity packs a massive punch, which can have devastating results. Lightning strikes can ignite structural fires in several ways, including:
- Through a direct strike
- In an arc discharge between two conductive objects at different induced potentials
- By a current surge in circuitry and electrical equipment
- By electrical current overflow resulting in overheating, melting or vaporizing of metal
- By arcing of lightning current from conductors at high-resistance grounds
- Through lightning puncturing pinholes in CSST gas piping
While thunderstorm activity is most common in spring and summer, it’s not unusual to see news of lightning’s devastation year round. Just last week, media outlets reported incidents of lightning-sparked fires at residences in Brevard County, San Antonio, Baton Rouge and Ozark. Sadly, a family pet perished in one of the fires, but thankfully, there were no reports of human injuries or deaths.
What many homeowners may not know, is that safety standard compliant lightning protection systems (LPS) help prevent these types of fires. A LPS that follows the guidelines of the NFPA 780 Safety Standard for Lightning Protection Systems provides a network of low-resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s destructive electricity and direct it to ground without impact to a structure or its occupants. The 2020 edition of NFPA 780 includes 12 chapters and 15 annex sections to provide a thorough overview of LPS design and installation requirements for a wide range of applications.
If you suspect your home or property has been struck by lightning, it’s important to investigate right away—even if the smoke alarm isn’t sounding and even if there isn’t smoke. In a fire, seconds count, so be sure to call your local fire department for expert guidance.
Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of October 9th in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871 and inflicted massive damage for several days. The conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres of land. Lessons learned from the Great Chicago Fire were instrumental in changing the landscape of fire and building safety for ensuing decades. Visit www.firepreventionweek.org to learn more about the campaign and fire safety.
Looking to learn more about the cost/benefits of safety standard compliant LPS? Contact NFPA Building Fire Safety Systems section member, Kimberly Loehr by email at firstname.lastname@example.org