WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Florida is the lightning capital of the country, according to the National Lightning Safety Council.
In South Walton, fire officials are trying to stress the importance of leaving your home if you think it has been hit by lightning.
South Walton Fire District Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez estimates they have responded to around a dozen calls of lightning strikes that caused residential fires so far this year, three of which have been in the last ten days.
“Some of the homes were not as damaged and then I think last week we had one that was severely damaged,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said do not hesitate to leave your home if you think it has been struck by lightning.
“Immediately get out,” Sanchez said. “I mean if you’re not sure it hit, you don’t want to take time and try to investigate whether it did or not. Get you and your family to safety and then call 9–1-1. Let us do the work for you.”
Sanchez said if your home has been hit, you may not realize it immediately, which can make the situation much worse.
“If you let it go too long, by the time you realize there is a fire it may be too late because it spreads rapidly once it gets into the attic,” Sanchez said. “An attic is an open space, full of air and oxygen, and that’s all that fire needs. There are combustibles in there, wood trusses so that’s the perfect recipe to create a big fire.”
Sanchez said houses make perfect conductors because lightning is attracted to telephone cables, electrical cables, water, and gas.
While nothing can prevent a lightning strike, there are measures you can put in place to mitigate the effects.
“What a surge protector does is it takes that lightning and just distributes it so it’s not direct at one item and house share filled with electronic components and refrigerators and appliances so that is one thing people can do to mitigate maybe the cost of the lightning strikes but unfortunately once lightning hits direct, there’s not a whole lot that we can do,” Sanchez said.
If you live in South Walton and you don’t have a smoke alarm, the South Walton Fire District will provide them to you for free.
Officials also said a lightning rod could be beneficial to divert the lightning away from the house to the ground.