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Lightning strike at Scout camp was ‘ground current,’ expert says

Union Leader Correspondent

June 26. 2013 10:30PM

GILMANTON — The lightning strike that burned 23 Scouts at Camp Bell Monday night happened on the second day of National Lightning Safety Week.

The Scouts, who were attending Daniel Webster Council’s Youth Leadership Training, suffered varying degrees of burns after a bolt struck a tree about 50 feet from a camp shelter, where they had gone for safety.

The shock came from what’s called a “ground current” lightning effect, said Dr. Lourdes B. Aviles a professor of meteorology at Plymouth State University.

When lightning strikes a tree or other object, much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface for as far as 100 feet, Aviles said.

Because it affects a much larger area than the other causes of lightning casualties, ground current causes the most lightning deaths and injuries every year in America.

“It’s not very common,” Aviles said. “But it can be very harmful. You can get burned, your nervous system can malfunction, and you can have heart problems.”

The Scouts were taken to a triage system that was set up at the Belmont Fire Station on Monday night. Ambulances were called from as far away as Alton and Franklin to take the victims to hospitals in Concord, Franklin, Laconia, Wolfeboro and Plymouth.

The majority of the Scouts were treated and released at area hospitals, though a few were kept overnight Monday for observation, and one was kept overnight Tuesday at Concord hospital for the same reason, said Scoutmaster Gerard Boyle. The remaining Scout was expected to be released Wednesday, he said.

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