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Wildfires Started by Lightning; Confirmed by STRIKEnet

The temperatures have reached record breaking highs in Colorado, USA this summer with little or no rain. With high hopes for some precipitation, a developing thunderstorm is usually welcomed with open arms by most Coloradans. However, thunderstorms that have recently developed have been the type that unfortunately do not produce large rainfall amounts but produce high levels of cloud-to-ground lightning strokes and gusty winds.  

These thunderstorms result in dry lightning, often the root cause of wildfires, when there is abundant moisture in the air but not enough at the surface to result in enough rain to dampen the fires started by lightning. These events often occur at the start of the monsoon season in the southwestern states, and depend on the preceding seasons’ rainfall.  

Due to the dry conditions and the pine beetle infestation in the forests resulting in millions of acres of dead pine trees, the fuel was present for these fires to burn rapidly and wildly. Several wildfires were burning at the same time in Colorado: the High Park fire (Fort Collins area), Waldo Canyon fire (Colorado Springs area), and Flagstaff fire (Boulder area). The High Park and Flagstaff wildfires have both been confirmed to be started by lightning. In the case of the High Park fire, the actual tree that was hit by lightning was identified and STRIKEnet® was used to verify this. The data within the STRIKEnet® report is provided by Vaisala’s National Lightning Detection Network® (NLDN®).

Oftentimes, to confirm that lightning was the root cause of ground damage to assets or the start of a wildfire, Vaisala offers a STRIKEnet® lightning verification report. The STRIKEnet® report provides details of the number of lightning strokes that hit the ground in an area of interest and also confirms the time, peak amplitude and polarity of each stroke.  All of this information is pulled from the archives of the data service center in Tucson, Arizona.  These reports can be ordered online for a low price and are very quick and easy to obtain by anyone, including direct end users, the public media and most frequently, insurance companies.