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Stricken Scout recounts: One violent lightning flash

GILMANTON — Joe Mariano was sitting in a tarp-covered shelter Monday night when he heard and felt a lightning bolt hit a tree about 50 feet away.

Mariano, 15, a Boy Scout from Troop 292 in Hooksett, said he and his fellow scouts at the Daniel Webster Council's Youth Leadership Training at Camp Bell immediately felt the bolt. The electricity traveled to their shelter and even knocked one scout off his feet. Mariano later learned his own foot was burned.

"My foot hurt; it felt really weird," he said from his Hooksett home Tuesday afternoon. "I started having muscle spasms. It was really strange."

He was one of 23 scouts who suffered burns from the lightning, which struck about 7:30 p.m. as a thunderstorm passed over the camp on Manning Lake. Most of the scouts suffered minor burns to their hands and feet. Many did not know for several minutes that they had small red burns on their body that resemble a spider, said Gerard Boyle, the scoutmaster.

The scouts, who have their own radar system at the camp headquarters, were warned of the incoming storms, and took shelter in the tarp-covered areas which dot the camp's grounds, Boyle said. Boyle was in a shelter about 100 yards away from the tree.

"I heard it hit from where I was; it was very loud, but I didn't feel anything," he said.

The scouts and their camp counselors performed as they should have in the emergency, and got some hands-on training in dealing with a crisis, Boyle said.

"We're thrilled with how everyone performed," he said.

Mariano's mother, Ruth, who is one of the leaders of her son's troop, said she suffered "a very short period of abject terror" when she heard about the lightning strike. After calling area hospitals, she found her son in Franklin Regional Hospital.

Mariano was one of six of the 23 considered to have potentially serious injuries. He was treated and held for observation until he was released just after midnight Tuesday.

He has a burn to his left foot that needs daily care this week, so he won't be going back to the camp this year.

"I'll be there next year, though," he said. "I will absolutely go back to scouting and go back there next year."

About 400 scouts from around the state between 12 and 16 are attending the camp each week this summer learning leadership skills, scouting officials said.

Only one scout was expected to be in Concord Hospital by today, said Boyle, a district court judge and former Marine.

There were 31 scouts in the shelter when the storm hit, Boyle said. Four of the camp's vehicles were used to take the 23 who complained of burns to the Belmont Fire Station, where a triage station was set up. Ambulances were called from as far away as Alton and Franklin to take the victims to hospitals in Concord, Franklin, Laconia, Wolfeboro and Plymouth.

"Almost all of them were treated and released (immediately)," Boyle said.

The Griswold scouting reservation is also home to the Hidden Valley Scout Camp; none of the Hidden Valley campers were affected, officials said.


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