Tree spits out 'fire balls' after lightning strike

02:24, Apr 11 2014

Linesmen have described seeing great balls of fire shooting up out of a tree that was struck by one of 700 bolts of lightning over the Waikato-Bay of Plenty overnight.

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The unlucky tree stood about eight metres high on the top of the tallest peak in the middle of a farm near Otorohanga.

A farmer woke up before light and saw it burning and smoking away.

''Apparently when [lightning] hits a tree and goes into the trunk fireballs roll up out the top,'' Otorohanga Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy fire chief Bryan King said.

''Cause all the power guys were out and they saw it. They said it was spitting fire balls out at midnight - I said OK.''


He and the crew arrived at the scene shortly before 7am. They had to roll through gates and drive up hills and down valleys to reach the torched tree.

''It was a total wreck - just a mess. It was about to fall over when we got there. It was just the trunk and main branches. It was still burning when we got there.''

King said he had seen lightning split trees and hit poles then roll into homes in the past but ''this one hit it and ignited the whole thing because it was so dry''.

The team doused it in compressed air foam and departed.

MetService meteorologist John Law said there were about 1000 lightning strikes across the country overnight.

About 600 of those split the air south and west of Hamilton. Another hundred odd lit up the skies above Rotorua.

A Hamilton resident and Waikato Times reporter Chris Gardner said the lightning storm raged for a few hours.

"It was like someone was stood outside the bedroom window with a strobe, which flashed multiple times a second," Gardner said.

"The flashes kept me awake for a couple of hours, bright enough to see through my eyelids. The weird thing was that it was eerily silent as the flashes were not accompanied by rumbles of thunder.''

Law said the storm ran through about 1am to 2am.

There were also areas of heavy rainfall. Matamata recorded 20mm in one hour.

''I don't think it would be the worst you've had... but they were some fairly active thunderstorms and for them to happen at night there would have been some nice displays of lightning.''