Tracking lightning strikes a growing part of firefighting | PostIndependent.com

Tracking lightning strikes a growing part of firefighting

With monsoon season expected to wash over Garfield County a little early this year, fire officials across the county are monitoring weather patterns and getting hourly updates as to when lightning strikes and where.

Grand Valley Fire Protection Chief David Blair explained departments across the state and country use the National Interagency Fire Center lightning maps to accurately track storms.

He said that when a storm hits, there may be dozens of lightning strikes within the hour, like one in the Battlement area on Monday night that was cause for concern given the extremely high fire danger.

It would be impossible for GVFD to check out all of the hits that will appear on the map in a single night, but at least they know where they were.

Just looking at Garfield County from Wednesday afternoon through Friday, it appears there have been a handful of lightning strikes throughout Garfield County, with a few near New Castle, one strike at Cattle Creek near Carbondale and several in the Roan Plateau above Battlement Mesa and Parachute.

Earlier in the week, the lightning strike indicator helped pinpoint areas of concern near Aspen Glen outside Carbondale, and at least one on the Grand Hogback above Silt that began to smoke as the storm clouds passed.

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Like most of the fire-fighting technology and equipment featured in the Post Independent this past week, the lightning map is only effective when used in conjunction with other tools in the firefighters' kit, Blair said.

He encourages residents throughout Battlement Mesa and Parachute to call in if they see smoke during a lightning storm.

If somebody calls in and says there is smoke on the Roan, Blair explained, then fire personnel can use the map to find the area the lightning struck to find its exact coordinates.

With the coordinates, the team can find the exact time and location the lightning hit and send crews out to investigate.

Blair said GVFD has snuffed out three small lightning fires this wildfire season, all of which were initially called in by residents or people in the area.

On Tuesday, the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District was able to use the lightning mapping system to help pinpoint the location of two strikes on a ridge above Aspen Glen and send firefighters to knock down embers from a pair of smoldering trees.