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Officials explain hold-over lightning strikes and how common they are

Posted at 5:09 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 09:39:59-04

BOZEMAN — We know a lot more about the Bridger Foothills Fire now. But let’s go back to the beginning and explore what caused it.

“The heat was there from that lightning strike, but it’s much like a recipe. All the ingredients have to be there for the fire to really take off from that heat,” explained Chris Ziegler, the public information officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

So how does lightning from days prior equal a fire days later?

“So as the time passed over that week after that lightning strike, the conditions dried out, relative humidity decreased, winds probably changed and became more in alignment with the topography, and that allowed those local fuels near where that heat source was to become receptive and then the fire took off,” Ziegler said.

It’s not something investigators take a guess at; rather, they use evidence and clues to find the answer.

“This is science-based. There’s specific training that the investigators go through, so a lot of times law enforcement services with a federal agency like Forest Service or BLM, they go through a special training just to learn how to investigate start sites,” he explained.

So then who’s responsible for damages?

“You know, that’s definitely for the courts to decide. There’s certain claims processes that people can go through for damage and loss,” explained Ashley Sites with the U.S. Forest Service.

Hold-over lightning strikes may be more common than you think.

“Commonly, you’ll see this in your own fire pits if you camp or something like that. You go to bed, the fire seems out, and then sometimes mid-day the next day you notice it start to smolder again. That’s because it’s mid-day. The solar radiation has got on that. It’s dried it out and allowed that heat to start smoking again, so it’s very similar to that,” Ziegler said.

So, even though the cause of the Bridger Foothills Fire was natural, this is still a good reminder to everyone to be responsible and take those extra steps to prevent any unnatural wildfires.