8 firefighters injured by nearby lightning

Eight firefighters were injured Saturday afternoon when lightning struck near where they were working to contain a blaze in Caldwell County just outside Lenoir.

None had life-threatening injuries, said Hunter Birckhead, Lenoir District forester with the N.C. Forest Service. Most reported burns on their feet and pain in their legs. One firefighter was taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. The rest were being treated at Caldwell Memorial Hospital Saturday evening. The Forest Service did not immediately release the firefighters' identities.

The strike happened around 4:30 p.m. near Buffalo Cove Road and N.C. 268, about 85 miles northwest of Charlotte. At the time, about 15 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was started by a lightning strike the day before.

Birckhead said “this is the first time in my 25 years with the Forest Service” he's seen that many people injured by a single lightning strike. He was still notifying family members of the injured firefighters late Saturday.

The crew included personnel from the N.C. Forest Service and members of a crew, made up of nonviolent offenders serving time in prison. Crews had been working since Friday afternoon, fighting a fire that had swelled to four acres. Caldwell County paramedics transported the injured men out.

It took a couple of hours to get all the injured out because the paramedics had to travel a gravel road then go a mile into the woods with gear, authorities told WCNC-TV, the Observer's news partner.

Birckhead said that just before the strike, the Forest Service was tracking storms traveling through Caldwell County.

“We talked about 15 minutes before (the strike), identifying a storm coming from their west,” Birckhead said. “The folks that were on the scene said that most of the skies were blue.”