While lightning can be extremely dangerous, it is often not taken seriously, according to county emergency officials.
An average of 400 people are struck by lighting each year, killing about 80, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
With a stream of nearly constant summer thunderstorm threats to the county during recent weeks, residents need to know that lightning is a threat to people and property, said Pam Tucker, Columbia County Emergency Services director.
"Anytime we have a big thunderstorm, we run 10 to 15 calls for lightning strikes," Martinez Fire Department Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann said.
Kuhlmann added that lighting strikes to a structure like a home or business can cause anything from minor damage to setting the building on fire.
"Lightning can strike a house and smolder for hours before it lights," he said.
Chief Tom McFarland, of North Columbia Fire and Rescue, advised homeowners to be vigilant about possible damage.
"We've had several lightning fires where people didn't call the fire department right away," he said. "And by the time we get the call, it's so far gone we can't save it."
Since most lightning fires start in the attic because lightning usually strikes the tallest object, Tucker recommends having a smoke detector in the attic.
Kuhlmann suggests installing some type of heat detection device, but one that is designed for high temperatures above 165 degrees so it does not go off falsely during hot summer months.
According to Tucker and NOAA, when the hair on the back of your neck stands up while outside, there is a high chance lightning is about to strike. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning.
If indoors, stay inside away from windows and glass doors that could break from flying debris and don't use the telephone or electrical appliances, though electrical lights are safe, the Federal Emergency Management Agency advises.
Turn the air conditioner off and don't take a shower and because a power surge can overload the compressor.
If caught outside without shelter in a thunderstorm, get away from open water and hide under small trees, not the tallest ones.
"If you are walking along in the open, squat in a ball and get your heels off the ground," Kuhlmann said. "The less contact you have with the ground and the smaller object you are, the better."
MYTH: If it's not raining, there is no danger from lightning.
FACT: Lightning may occur as far away as 10 miles from any rainfall.
MYTH: Rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car can protect you from lightning.
FACT: They provide no protection. However, you are much safer in a vehicle than outside. It adds more protection as long as you aren't touching metal.
MYTH: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and shouldn't be touched.
FACT: Lightning victims carry no charge and should be attended to immediately.
MYTH: "Heat lightning" occurs after a hot summer day and poses no threat.
FACT: What is referred to as heat lightning is actually lightning too far away for thunder to be heard, but it may be moving in your direction.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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