Mother Nature lit up the night in more ways than one early this morning in the western Iowa community of Atlantic.
Firefighters were called out after lightning struck a tree, traveled down its roots, blew a hole in a gas line 30-feet underground, and set fire to the gas that came spewing out of it.
Atlantic Fire Chief Mark McNees says they couldn’t believe what they saw as they approached the scene. "It’s just the weirdest thing," he says. "It ignited the gas, of course, and so right in the middle of the yard they had this three-foot flame… This’ll be the talk of the shop for quite a while."
Firefighters couldn’t do much until crews from Alliant Energy shut down the gas to the service line.
The lightning struck close to the base of the tree. An Atlantic police officer responding to the scene before firefighters arrived thought the tree itself was burning and he was going to try and put it out with a fire extinguisher, but Chief McNees says the first fire department personnel to arrive on the scene told him that wouldn’t have helped.
"He said: ‘That’s gas…I don’t think you have a big enough extinguisher,’" McNees says.
Mc Nees says it’s extremely rare for lightning to travel through the ground and burst a gas line. He offered an explanation of why the flames didn’t cause any damage to the nearby residence — the rupture let gas leak out of the pipe before it got as far as the house and it kept coming out the break in the pipe, and burning up.
He says the hole around the area where the blue, yellow and gold flame was jetting out was about one-foot wide and six-inches deep. It took the energy company crew about an hour to get to the source of the rupture because there were so many tree roots in the area.