Lightning in Central Point caused a home to catch fire Thursday, hours after the storm had passed, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 officials say.
In a strange string of events, lightning struck 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 at 7 p.m. in the 400 block of Marian Avenue.
Five fire trucks and 10 firefighters responded to the scene, but it took a few minutes for the emergency responders to figure out the origin and wait for the gas to be shut off.
According to District 3 Fire Marshal John Patterson, lightning did not strike the vacant home at 406 Marian Ave., but a strike 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. That caused a leak in the gas line that Patterson estimated happened between 4 and 4:30 p.m. But weather conditions likely kept the gas from accumulating for a few hours.
"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."
That ignition source appears to have been a neighbor's heat pump, which is about 4 feet from the house that caught fire. The neighbor 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 in damage to the exterior of the home, he said.
The fire was quickly brought under control.
"Sometimes if you extinguish the fire first, you still have a gas leak and have other kinds of problems arise," Patterson said.
Fire crews climbed onto the roofs of nearby homes as they attempted to determine where the lightning came into contact with the ground, but were unable to find it.
There were no injuries reported.
After the fire was extinguished, an Avista crew dug up the gas line in the yard to ensure there wasn't damage elsewhere in the line, Patterson said.
"It was a strange chain of events, but lighting-caused fires happen once or twice a year," said Patterson.
Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.