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Bolt from the blue: Did North Bend man get hit by lightning through a church window?

Pointing out the spot on his chest where he experienced a jolt, Travis Bridgman of North Bend survived a nearby lightning strike. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Pointing out the spot on his chest where he experienced a jolt, Travis Bridgman of North Bend survived a nearby lightning strike.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Time didn’t work quite right. He didn’t hear a thing, but the people with him said the noise was deafening. He stayed on his feet, not even a hole in his shirt, and afterward, he remembered them staring at him, shocked, but he didn’t really feel much.

That, to the best of Travis Bridgman’s memory, is what a lightning strike feels like.

Bridgman, 33, of North Bend, has defied a lot of conventional wisdom with his experience, Sunday, Sept. 15. First, he says, “You would really think that the inside of a building is safe.”

Usually, it is, and lightning safety education materials often advise “When thunder roars, go indoors.” Bridgman was inside the Shilow Life Fellowship building, though, with about eight other people, when he was struck.

“A little bolt, about as big as a pin, just came through the window and pinged me in the chest,” he said.

It happened at about 4:30 p.m., after the last service of the day. Bridgman said he was helping to close up the building and had gone to close the last open window.

“A small part of me knew that there was lightning right outside, but there are still things that we should do,” he said. He kept doing those things, too, after he was struck, and although he said he couldn’t feel his feet or his left lung working for a while, he seemed to have no ill effects. His mother said it was close to a miracle.

A direct lightning strike carries 300 million volts, and heats the air around it to more than 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. Most strikes are not fatal, but lightning kills about 30 people in the U.S. each year.

The second way Bridgman is an anomaly is that this is his second time being struck by lightning. Years ago, he said, he and a group of Little Leaguers were knocked down by a lightning strike that hit the ground as they were running across the field at North Bend Elementary School. That time, he said, the lightning just gave each of them some bruises and “hurt our ears,” he said, and this time, the lightning has left even less of a mark.

Just 11 days after it happened, Bridgman says the small red burn that he got had disappeared. There was almost no exit wound on his back, and the Bellevue paramedics who saw him at the North Bend Fire Station Sept. 26 didn’t make a record of the incident.

What’s left, he says, is the need to learn more, and maybe to find meaning in his experience.

“I was in a church, so I thought maybe God decided to put some light into my heart,” he said.

The day after it happened, his need to learn started as an unusual urge. Seeing a friend off at the Pacific Crest Trail, he said “I kind of just wanted to hike to Canada.” He didn’t, saying “It’s lovely up there, but this is my home.”

Bridgman has developed a strong sense of responsibility to North Bend, where he can often be seen picking up litter in parks.

“It’s not city-sanctioned,” he says, but that doesn’t deter him from the work that he began 38 months ago. Although he can’t really say why he started cleaning up trash, he says it was an important step in creating the community he wanted to live in. For “… an environment that lets people talk freely, feel ownership, it has to be clean,” he said.

Bridgman is an all-weather volunteer, too, picking up trash year-round. Since he’s outside so much, Bridgman does have concerns about lightning safety. In fact, he said, just a few days before he was struck, “I was asking my friends how to be safe in lightning… I had lightning on my mind!”

Lightning or not, though, Bridgman plans to continue in his clean-up efforts in his favorite place, his home town, for a long time.

 

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