This analysis of lightning fires and lightning strikes includes information on incident type, and when and where the incidents occurred. Also includes selected published incident descriptions.
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During 2004-2008, U.S. local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 24,600 fires per year that were started by lightning. These fires caused an average of 12 civilian deaths, 47 civilian injuries, and $407 million in direct property damage per year. Most of these fires occurred outdoors, but most associated deaths, injuries, and property damage were associated with home fires. Fires started by lightning peak in the summer months and in the later afternoon and early evening. The January 2006 West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed 12 lives was the deadliest U.S. fire started by lightning in recent years.
In addition to the fires reported to local fire departments, federal and state wildland firefighting agencies reported an average of 11,400 wildland fires started by lightning to the National Interagency Fire Center per year from 2004-2008. These fires burned much more than fires started by human causes. The average lightning-caused fire burned 500 acres, while the average human-caused fire burned just under 40 acres.
Over the 10 years from 2000-2009, 39 U.S. firefighters were killed as a result of lightning-caused fires. These deaths include fatalities during fireground activities, as well as responding or returning to fires. Three of these deaths occurred at structure fires, and the remaining 36 were killed as the result of wildland fires. Eleven of these deaths occurred in helicopter crashes.
In addition to causing fires, lightning is dangerous on its own. The National Weather Service reported from 2004 to 2008, 38 people were killed per year in lightning strikes. The most common location for these deaths was outside or in an open area. Also, in 2003, the last year for which data is available, 10,200 non-fire lightning strikes were reported to local fire departments. The majority of these, 62%, occurred at home properties.