Lightning starts chain of events leading to fire

A hole in the gas line caused by lightning is shown. Photo courtesy of Fire District No. 3.

Lightning in Central Point caused a home to catch fire hours after the initial storm, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Fire Marshal John Patterson reported.

In a strange string of events, lightning hit the ground and apparently traveled through a gas line until it arced out, leaving a hole in the line where it connected to an empty house's gas meter. The gas ignited later, scorching the outside of the house, officials said.

The fire was reported by a neighbor in the 400 block of Marian Avenue at 7 p.m. At 7:08 p.m., five fire trucks and 10 firefighters were on scene, but it took a few minutes for emergency responders to figure out the origin and determine what to do next.

According to Patterson, lightning did not strike the vacant home at 406 Marian Ave, but lightning somewhere in the neighborhood dissipated through the ground and contacted the natural gas line.

"The electricity arced and created a hole in the pigtail line, the connection line between the gas meter and the gas connection," Patterson said. This caused a leak in the gas line that Patterson estimates happened between 4 and 4:30 p.m.

"With the winds associated with the storm, that kept the gas concentration below the flammable limit," Patterson said. "But once the winds died down, the concentration was able to reach the flammable range and find an ignition source."

The ignition source appears to have been the neighbor's heat pump, which is about four feet from the house that caught fire. The neighbor said that they had heard a hissing and went to investigate, then saw the fire coming out of the area of the pigtail, blowing up against the exterior of the home, Patterson said.

"When the heat pump kicked on, there was a spark that flamed back to the breach in the line," Patterson said.

Crews had to wait for the gas to be turned off before they could extinguish the fire, which caused an estimated $15,000 worth of damage to the exterior of the home, he said.

The fire was under control at 7:22 p.m.

"Sometimes if you extinguish the fire first, you still have a gas leak and have other kinds of problems arise," Patterson said.

Since no one was home, there were no injuries reported. Fire crews got up on the roof of nearby homes to try to determine the point where the lightning came into contact with the ground, but were unable to find it.

Avista came out after the fire was extinguished and dug up the gas line in the yard to make sure there wasn't damage anywhere else in the line, Patterson said.

"It was a strange chain of events, but lighting-caused fires happen once or twice a year," said Patterson.

— Mandy Valencia

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