By Evan Webster | Herald News

That’s the message Environment Canada wants everyone to hear this summer.

This is Lightning Safety Week, and Environment Canada wants to make sure Canadians understand the risks. On average, there are 10 deaths from lightning strikes in Canada every year.

“There are a number of hazards associated with thunderstorms, and lightning is one of them,” said Halifax meteorologist Bob Robichaud. “The safest place to be is indoors.”

Robichaud said it’s important when caught outside in a storm to remain on low ground and avoid trees, tall structures or anything that conducts electricity.

“Lightning can strike quite a ways away from where it’s actually produced. It can strike from as far as 30 kilometres away. That’s important to note. When you see dark skies and hear thunder, it’s time to head inside.”

But Jeff Cormier knows lightning is a hazard, even if you are inside. Cormier was vacationing with his family in Cape Breton last summer when lightning struck a telephone pole near their rental cottage. The surge travelled through the house and did considerable damage.

“Lightning is one of the most powerful things mother nature can throw our way,” said Cormier, a lawyer from Summerside. “There’s no way to know where the next bolt will strike.”

Cormier said he heard a loud crash of thunder followed by a flash. When he opened the bedroom door to check on his infant son, there was smoke everywhere, the walls were scorched and some electronics had exploded into pieces. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

“It was shocking, pun intended,” he said. “Pay attention to the experts when they say stay inside the house, stay away from windows and doors, and stay away from all electrical equipment.”

But Hal Smith, owner of Island Lightning Rod Co. Ltd. in Charlottetown, said lightning safety is about more than just staying inside. All buildings and structures should be properly grounded, using a lightning protection system.

“Grounding prevents property damage, personal injury and death,” said Smith. “A lot of people just aren’t aware of the dangers of not having a proper lightning protection system.”

Smith’s systems range from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the size of the building. In the event of a strike, a lightning rod on the roof directs the bolt through a series of copper conductor wires and safely into the ground.

He said it’s a necessary expense for homeowners, especially since millions of dollars are spent each year repairing lightning damage in homes.

“It’s a one-time cost, and it stays for the life of the home. It’s an insurance policy.”

Smith said it’s better to install lightning protection systems when the building is under construction.

“That way, the conductor cables are all invisible, built into the walls. It dramatically reduces the cost, requires no maintenance and the house is protected forever.”

Smith said everyone should be aware of lightning safety and make sure their homes are safe.

“Lightning strikes the Earth 100 times every second. A properly installed lightning protection system is the best way to protect yourself and your home.”

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