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As It Was: Woman Survives Lightning Strike on Mountain Lookout

Zella Wright and her husband, Herb, spent the winter of 1942-43 as lookouts scanning the skies for enemy aircraft for the Army Air Corps Aircraft Warning Service. Their lookout was on 6,000-foot-high Blue Rock Peak in the mountains east of Butte Falls, Ore.

Interviewed in 1982 for an oral history project, they told U.S. Forest Service historian Jeff LaLand the tedium and isolation was only occasionally relieved by the hum of an airplane overhead, none of them Japanese. 

But one day was literally a shocker for Zella Wright when lightning struck their lookout station while she was talking on their hand-cranked telephone.

In her words, “It knocked me down and blinded me. I … had two balls of fire in front of my eyes. I crawled over to the little cook stove and put my hands on it. It took the electricity out of my body, I guess. I was black and blue all over!” Her experience made headlines.

Her husband said when lightning struck, she had just answered the phone and wasn’t standing on the  station’s special lightning stool with glass insulators on the bottom of the legs.

“She’s lucky to be alive,” he said.

Source: Recollections: People and the Forest from the 'Upper Rogue' to the 'Dead Indian Plateau'. Vol. III. Medford, Ore.: Rogue River National Forest, 1990. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://soda.sou.edu/awdata/020829c1.pdf>.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.