March 23, 2019
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Grand Isle student captures lightning strike on church steeple

GRAND ISLE, Maine — For Carl Bouley, lightning apparently does strike twice.

On Wednesday evening, the 16-year-old Madawaska High School junior was in the right place at the right time to capture on video lightning striking a Grand Isle church steeple.

“In 2007, on my birthday, it was hit by lightning, too,” Bouley said Thursday morning. “When I saw the conditions with the atmosphere were the same yesterday, I figured, ‘Why not try to record it [and] if it happens, it happens.’”

It most certainly did happen.

About 6 p.m., as a line of strong thunderstorms was passing through the St. John Valley, Bouley stood on his Grand Isle home’s front porch and aimed his iPhone camera toward the St. Gerard Catholic Church steeple.

Seconds later, a bright streak of lightning can be seen hitting the building, producing a fireball and accompanied by a massive crack of thunder.

“As soon as I pointed the camera to the ground and back up, it happened,” Bouley said.

In the background, Bouley’s father, Bruce Bouley, can be heard saying to contact Grand Isle dispatch “because the church just got hit again.”

Both Bouleys are members of the Grand Isle Volunteer Fire Department and Carl Bouley said Thursday once the storm had moved out, firefighters went to check on the church.

“From what we can tell there was no damage,” Bouley said. “We checked it with the thermal camera.”

He said his father was referring to the Aug. 4, 2007, lightning strike when he referenced the steeple getting hit again.

According to parish sexton Claude Lavertu, the only thing Wednesday’s lightning strike did was blow out three light bulbs, a far cry from the $35,000 in damage lightning caused back in 2007, he said.

“Then there was a fire in the steeple,” he said. “I am relieved for sure there was no damage this time and everything is all right.”

No one was hurt when the lightning hit Wednesday, Bouley said, but it did make an impact.

“It kind of scared me a bit,” he said. “It felt like a small shockwave hit.”

There is no lightning rod in the church steeple, according to Gary Campbell, Grand Isle fire chief, nor does he believe it is grounded.

“It should be,” he said Thursday afternoon. “That way the electricity runs right to the ground and does not cause any damage to the structure.”

In an email late Thursday afternoon, Dave Guthro, communications director with the diocese, said diocese officials are working with the Grand Isle parish to assess Wednesday’s lightning strike.

“They, along with professionals, are assessing the situation and determining the proper steps moving forward,” he said. “We have been told there was no major damage [but] have not been able to see it firsthand yet.”

Churches are often among the tallest buildings in a town or city, and Guthro said many within the diocese do have lightning rods in place, including its tallest structures, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland and Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in Lewiston.

But having a lightning rod does not always save a building in the event of a strike, he said.

“In July 2005, for instance, a lightning strike caused a fire at Immaculate Conception Church on Calais Avenue in Calais, causing massive damage,” he said. “That church had lightning rods.”

As for the video that since has gone viral online, Lavertu has high praise.

“It’s an amazing thing,” he said. “That’s a one-in-a-million shot to get that.”

Bouley posted his video on Facebook on Wednesday night, and the clip had been viewed 91,373 times by 3 p.m. Thursday.

A YouTube video of the strike also was viewed more than 2,600 times by Thursday afternoon, and news outlets from around New England have contacted the young man looking for permission to use it.

“This is kind of different,” he said. “I’ve posted videos before, but none have ever blown up like this.”

A barn in Bridgewater was not as lucky when it burned to the ground Wednesday after being hit by lightning, according to the clerk at the Bridgewater town office.

Calls to the Bridgewater fire chief were not immediately returned Thursday morning.

The conditions that spawned the lightning and severe weather were part of a line of severe storms that moved east over parts of northern and north central Maine late Wednesday afternoon, according to Joe Hewitt, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

“They started around 5 p.m. and really picked up around 5:30 p.m. over the St. John Valley,” Hewitt said Thursday morning. “The storms intensified as they moved east across the region.”

A second set of storms also developed late Wednesday over Piscataquis and northern Penobscot counties, Hewitt said.

Radar data showed heavy rains and winds gusting up to 65 mph in some places hardest hit by the storms, he said.

Those winds pushed the waters of Long Lake in the St. Agatha-Sinclair area over its banks, according to one resident.

“It was the worst I have ever seen,” Julie Bouchard, who owns Long Lake Camping Area with her husband, Andrew Bouchard, said Thursday. “I’ve never seen the lake with waves like that.”

At one point the wind was pushing the waves up and into the front windows on her house, about 20 feet from the shore, she said.

“I really thought I was going to have my window broken,” Julie Bouchard said.

Around the campground, which opened Memorial Day weekend, trees were blown down and docks flipped over by the winds.

There were reports of downed trees and power lines around the region, according to the dispatcher at the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office.

“We got reports of damage with the heaviest up around Cross Lake, Sinclair into Van Buren and Grand Isle and across New Sweden to south of Caribou and Presque Isle,” Hewitt said. “These storms were severe.”

The thunderstorms were expected to wind down Thursday night as a cold front moves across the region.

Meanwhile, cleanup continues around northern Maine from Wednesday’s storm.

“We have branches all over the place,” Bouchard said. “We have three couples who are staying in their campers here and thank God no one got hurt, but I did talk to one of them whose camper is next to the lake and they said it really wiggled yesterday.”

The storm caused widespread power outages throughout the state.

According to Central Maine Power’s website, more than 8,400 of its customers were without electricity as of 8 p.m. Thursday, the bulk of them in Cumberland, Somerset and Lincoln counties.

Meanwhile, Emera Maine reported slightly more than 13,700 customers without power, many of them in the Brewer, Bucksport, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor areas.


Correction: An earlier version of the story indicated Dave Guthro said the churches do not have lightning rods. He actually did state that they do.


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