Lightning keeps Orcas firefighters busy

“There were some pretty spectacular strikes,” said Duty Officer and Paramedic Jeff Larsen, who watched the recent electrical storm from the Eastsound Fire Station. And at least two of those have already become fires.

A pilot reported smoke in the Dolphin Bay Road area on Sunday, July 26 at about 2 p.m.

Eastsound’s engine, brush truck and aid unit as well as Rosario’s water tender responded until firefighters were able to locate the source off of a private access road above Trout Lake (previously Ayer’s Pond). An apparent lightning strike had hit a large cedar about 50 feet off the roadway, shattering the top portion of the tree and blowing it out of the ground. Firefighters found pieces of the cedar up to 100 feet away plus a 10-foot by 10-foot area at the base burning into the duff. Sixteen responders worked two hours to locate and then extinguish the stubborn fire by digging it out from under the uprooted stump using a chain saw, hand tools and 1400 gallons of water.

Within an hour reports of possible smoke were called in for the Rosario Highlands area off Discovery Way, but that fire wasn’t located until the next morning when Gayle Benton looked out her window to see a fire not 10 feet from her home. She immediately called 911 and then went out with a garden hose.

“Lightning hit my house,” she reported.

The Rosario engine, the water tender and the Eastsound brush truck arrived on scene. Several other apparatus were turned back to station when the small fire was located. Lt. Rich Harvey was first on the scene.

It can sometimes take days for lightning-caused fires to surface. And although the Fire Marshal’s office was quick to enact a Countywide burn ban last week, there have been multiple reports of both visitors and locals having campfires anyway. Moran State Park has also posted a burn ban.

“We will be lucky if Orcas gets through this week without a significant fire,” firefighter and Wildland Division Capt. Max Jones said.