As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I like to chase storms around the region. It’s been a pretty abysmal year in Canberra for a storm nut. A very quiet season as El Nino kicks our butt. Lots of dry weather and low humidity. So, when a chance to go and shoot a storm pops up, I tend to jump at the opportunity.
On the afternoon of 16th of December, the radar was looking good. A group of small cells was rolling into Canberra. It wasn’t a particularly strong storm but it looked to have good rainfall and a reasonable amount of lightning. I quickly packed my gear and shot out the door.
A short drive down the road and I arrived at one of my favourite local spots. Stockdill Drive behind Holt. I was a little late to this storm and it was passing by right in front of me and rather quickly. I hurried to get all my gear out of the car.
While I was setting up my tripod, a huge bolt of lightning struck just in front of me, no more than a 200-300 meters. The sound was deafening and there was a distinct taste of metal in the air, typical of close strikes. It wasn’t raining where I was and the storm was still a good 10km’s from where I was standing. This type of lightning strike is known as clear air lightning. It’s commonly referred to as “A bolt from the blue”…. I quickly changed my mind and set the tripod up in the car instead. It was a little too close for me.
After a few minutes of frustration watching lightning strike just out of the frame of my camera, I decided to move up the road a little, to get a better angle. As I started putting things back in the car, I could smell smoke in the air. It wasn’t thick and I couldn’t see anything obvious around me.
I move up the hill and setup once again. 10-15 minutes had passed since the close strike and I looked back towards the spot I had just left. There was smoke just down the valley I was photographing and it was getting thicker. The lightning had started a fire and with no rain, it was obviously starting to spread. I called 000.
I spoke with the gentleman at the fire department and gave the best description I could of where the fire was located. It was down the hill from where I was and I couldn’t see it directly, just the plumes over the treetops. The fire brigade had sent a truck to investigate and I was asked to stay in case they needed me to show them where it was.
Another 10 minutes and the smoke is now looking much thicker and the area it covers is wider. I can hear the fire truck coming and when they arrive, they can see the smoke and quickly drive down to the nearest access road. The storm is now over for me and I decide to head home.
I later find out that the fire had spread to approximately 300 meters and would have quickly gotten out of control had it gone unreported. On this day, if I had been just a few hundred meters in either direction along the road, I would have thought it was raining and that the fire wouldn’t last too long. The rest of the road was soaked but where I was it was completely dry. In reality, a fire like this can easily be started just outside of a rain band and once in full swing, can start to spread regardless of the wet ground it reaches, drying off the surrounding area as it heats up the ground.
It’s always better to play it safe. If you see smoke, call 000.