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What about using lightning rods to stop fires?

Lightning rods have been used to protect buildings, airplanes and ships for years. Would it be possible to place lightning rods in cleared forested areas to attract and send the energy into the earth to help prevent fire? The rods could be built in segments based on a portable transportation device and moved to areas where meteorologists anticipate storm activity.

— Dale G., via email

Sounds like you think you might have had a “light bulb” moment here, Dale. Without checking in with any officials, we here at Since You Asked headquarters rolled the idea around in our little brains for a bit.

We’re just imagining millions of acres of forest in Southern Oregon studded with thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of lightning rods. Just to remind you, Dale, that when we do get a lightning storm, it hits a huge swath of our region at a time. Yes, meteorologists do have a pretty good idea when we’re going to get these kind of storms.

But the idea of placing them all over steep hillsides seems a little impractical to us.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, a 100-foot-tall lightning rod would protect a circular area with a 200-foot diameter. So every 200 feet or so, by our calculations, you’d need another lightning rod. If you were trying to cover a one-square mile area, that would be about 700 lightning rods with masts extending up 100 feet. Let’s say we want to cover 100 square miles. That’s a whopping 70,000 lightning rods. Even if you just placed the lightning rods in cleared areas, a lot of lightning could still hit forested areas.

We checked in with the Melissa Cano, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, and gave her the rundown on your suggestion, Dale.

“Logistically speaking, the cost and time — and the man hours and the amount of people — to make that happen would not be probable,” she said.

She said a lightning strike is just as likely to hit a tree as a lightning rod.

Moving lightning rods according to weather forecasts would be expensive and difficult, particularly with the terrain in Southern Oregon, Cano said.

ODF protects 1.8 million acres in this area, but federal and private land ownership also accounts for a lot of land — and fires — in Oregon. Of Oregon’s 63 million acres, about half are forested, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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