MISSOULA, Mont. - One Missoula neighborhood found out first-hand the power of lightning early Wednesday morning, when a bolt hit a tree on Jake Court in the South Hills. In the nearby house were Casey McNellis, his wife and their three children. They were jolted from their sleep at around 3 a.m.
"We heard a big big boom. Loudest noise I've heard around here. My wife ran out, and saw out in her backyard that there was a fire right next to the tree," said McNellis.
Lightning is one of the most powerful forces in nature. When it strikes, it burns hotter than the sun and can jump from one object to the next, as McNellis was soon going to find out.
In the moments after the strike, neighbors woken by the thunderclap raced to help. They brought five-gallon buckets full of water and even a fire extinguisher.
They had the fire under control before the fire department even arrived, thanks to the fire extinguisher. However, the fire behaved so strangely, that McNellis could tell the strike damaged more than just the tree. Below the tree was a gas line, which had ruptured and was feeding fuel to the fire.
"We noticed that when we were trying to put the fire out it kept coming back," said McNellis. "That was kind of indicative that maybe there was some gas involved. Shortly after that we all smelled the gas a little bit."
That wasn't all that was damaged -- the air conditioning, the satellite TV and cable services were all down, fried by the electric surge.
McNellis knows he's lucky that the gas leak didn't get out of control.
"It could have been worse," he said. "It could have gotten in the house...and you know, luckily it didn't. The most important thing is that the kids are safe."
NorthWestern Energy dug out the gas line Wednesday morning and quickly repaired the damage. The new hole in the McNellis' yard was covered by noon.