Lightning started two structure fires near Hamilton and torched a slash pile on the Victor volunteer fire chief’s ranch Wednesday morning.
Hamilton Fire Chief Brad Mohn said it was the first time that he could remember a single lightning storm starting two structure fires.
“It’s not very often that we get a structure fire from lightning,” Mohn said. “It does happen every now and then.”
Hamilton volunteer firefighters were initially called out Wednesday on a report of a tree being hit by lightning in the Roaring Lion area shortly before 9 a.m. After being unable to find any sign of smoke on that first call, they received a second call about a structure fire on Shoshone Loop Road.
Lightning had struck a crow’s nest on an occupied home.
“The people inside initially didn’t know their roof was hit,” Mohn said. “A neighbor saw it and called it in.”
By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, there were open flames in the crow’s nest and heavy smoke coming out of the home’s eaves.
“The fire was burning in the attic pretty good when we arrived,” Mohn said. “We were able to limit the fire’s spread to the attic and the roof, but there was significant water damage to the home. It was a great stop by the guys.”
Mohn said the volunteers had the flames beaten back in 10 to 15 minutes after they arrived on the scene.
While the firefighters were battling that blaze, a second call came in from the Roaring Lion area that a double-wide trailer was on fire.
Mohn said it appeared the energy from a nearby lightning strike traveled through the ground and started a fire in the home’s dryer vent behind the dryer. The home was unoccupied at the time. A neighbor spotted the smoke and called it in.
Mohn diverted a truck on its way from Hamilton to the Roaring Lion fire. He also sent an engine form the Shoshone Loop fire to assist. A water tender coming from Corvallis was also dispatched to the Roaring Lion fire.
“We were able to catch that one,” Mohn said. “It was kind of smoldering when we got there. … It was a little hectic there for a while.”
Corvallis firefighters offered mutual aid on both fires.
The same lightning storm also struck some trees on Victor Fire Chief Scott Hackett’s ranch and started a fire in an old slash pile underneath them. Bitterroot National Forest firefighters and Victor fire responded. Hackett said there wasn’t much worry the fire would spread.
“It was wetter than hell here,” he said. “We got doused by rain.”
Officials say Wednesday’s fire will likely be just the beginning of fires started by the storm that could spring to life once the vegetation dries and temperatures warm up a bit later this week.
A lightning holdover started a small fire up Big Creek northwest of Victor over the weekend from a storm that went through the area several days earlier. The fire burned about a tenth of an acre. It was put out by Bitterroot Forest firefighters.
“Looking at this morning’s lightning map, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more fires pop up later in the week,” said Bitterroot Forest spokesperson Tod McKay. “We got hammered. Those strikes can sit there for a couple of days and then pop after they get some wind and heat.”
Firefighters have responded to 15 wildfires this summer on the Bitterroot National Forest. Seven were started by lightning and the others were human-caused.
Mohn said people celebrating the Fourth of July shouldn’t become complacent following a couple of days of rain.
“While we are better off than we have been in the past, it’s still dry out there,” Mohn said. “I don’t want people to have a false sense of security when they light off their fireworks this year. They need to be aware of their surroundings.”