Lightning hits RV, short-circuits vacation



BAR HARBOR — Ron and Brenda Cote of Caribou were half asleep in their camper trailer at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, listening to an intense thunderstorm outside when they heard a loud thunder crack followed by what sounded like someone leaning on the horn of their Chevy Silverado pickup. They smelled something burning and saw smoke rolling out of the kitchen area of the camper where the fuse panel is located.

A bolt of lightning had struck their camp site.

They scooped up their cockapoo Ted, who had been asleep in the kitchen area, and headed out into the rain to see what had happened. The lights and windshield wipers in the truck were on. They didn’t see any flames, but smoke was coming out of the camper. They called 911.

“I love thunder and lightning,” Brenda Cote said, “so I wasn’t concerned about the storm.” But when they heard the horn and saw the smoke, they knew something was wrong. No one was injured.

Bar Harbor Campground manager Craig Robbins said Ron Cote came to the office to let them know the fire department was on their way. Robbins has seen several such strikes since taking over management there in 1969. “It’s been 10 years or so,” he said, “but we’re right on top of a high point here, and it’s all ledge.”

Usually, a bolt of lightning hits the ground rod for power at a camp site, he said. “There’s so much electricity in the area that it can hit nearby electronics (such as the pickup truck’s systems) almost like a radio wave.”

Firefighters from Bar Harbor arrived a few minutes later and shut off electricity to the trailer. They used a thermal imaging camera, Assistant Chief John Lennon said, to look for areas that may be burning or smoldering in concealed spaces. They cut a hole in the camper’s exterior and pulled out insulation to help cool the area of the fried fuse panel.

Firefighters didn’t find any other burned areas, but they urged the Cotes to call again if they saw anything unusual.

“Well, that was our hot morning in bed!” Brenda joked.

The lightning strike came a few days after their vehicle was rear-ended while on their way to Bangor earlier in the vacation.

They’ve been coming to the campground for more than 20 years, she said. This year’s trip was a last-minute decision. They had planned to stay until Thursday, but likely will head home sooner.

Bar Harbor firefighters also responded to a home on Frenchman Hill during the same storm in response to reports of tripped electrical breakers following another possible lightning strike.

According to the National Weather Service, most indoor lightning injuries happen when pipes, wires or other metal surfaces conduct the electric charge from a lightning strike hitting the ground nearby. During storms, they advise avoiding contact with water faucets or showers or anything that plugs into an electrical outlet.

“It’s almost impossible to say exactly where the strike hit unless you see a scar,” fire Captain John Sanders said.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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