Protecting your home from destructive lightning

- In the last two weeks, we've witnessed the destructive power of Mother Nature.

Saturday, flames tore through a New Port Richey home on Bamboo Lane.

It was no match for the high-voltage storm.

"Both neighbors out here heard the crack of the lightning," said neighbor Beverly Barnett.

And, last Monday, Lightning RV Supply in Thonotosassa burned to the ground after a strike from above.

"We did have some bad storms here, it was real bad," said witness Ronald Hambrick.

Last year, $790 million dollars in lightning claims were paid out to nearly 100,000 policyholders in the U.S., according to a study done by the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

Florida, as it might be expected, was the top state for claims at more than $156 million dollars.

On the roofs of some buildings around Tampa Bay, you may notice rods pointing straight up.

The people who install these "air terminals" say they can mean the difference between saving and losing your home.

Around Florida, it's a business that rarely has a slow season.

"We'll go into some neighborhoods and do quite a few homes after there is a strike," said Keith Ahearn, Tampa Division Manager of Bonded Lightning Protection.

The company is headquartered in Jupiter.

But, the company opened a Tampa office June 1st after getting so many calls from this area.

They install lightning rods on roofs, connected to ground rods below.

Ahearn said they don't attract lightning, but show it where to go.

"It gives lightning the least resistance to ground, so, to carry the strike to the ground will protect the structure," Ahearn explained. "If the lightning is going to strike, it's gonna strike here no matter what. But, instead of going through the structure, it's going to occur above the roof and go up."

In 31 years of installing lightning protection systems, Ahearn said he has never heard back from a customer, after installation, that they'd been struck.

Though it comes at a cost, starting at $2,000-$3,000 for smaller homes and increasing from there, Ahearn said it's a price for protecting what's priceless.

"It's not the house. It's the people in the house," Ahean said. "That's what it all comes down to. You can buy another house. You can't replace the people."

A lightning protection system may not be in everyone's budget.

But, one protection everyone can afford during dangerous storms is a smoke alarm.

If lightning strikes, it won't save your home but it can save your life.

In the City of Tampa, smoke alarms and batteries are available for free at every fire station.

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