GILMANTON, N.H. — After about two dozen Boy Scouts out camping were burned when lightning struck a nearby tree, most returned Tuesday to the leadership program that had had them out braving the elements on a remote New Hampshire hilltop.
Two Scouts were still at Concord Hospital as of mid-afternoon but were expected to rejoin the program later in the day, said Gerry Boyle, course director of the national youth leadership program.
None of the boys was hit directly by lightning in Monday's storm at Camp Bell, part of the Griswold Hidden Valley Scout Reservation in Gilmanton, a scout spokesman said.
The Scouts who returned to camp after their injuries were treated had no scarring or visible signs of their ordeal, Boyle said.
The giant pine that was struck was the only physical evidence of their close call. The tree had a visible scar running from its top to the ground, caused when the sap and water inside it boiled and split the tree open.
"When that bolt hit it shook the ground," said Boyle, who was under another tarp nearby. "Another 25 feet and it would have been a whole different story."
With about a 15-minute warning from their base camp, the Boy Scouts and their counselors hurriedly gathered under a tarp tied to trees to wait out the approaching storm. The torrential downpour hit first — just before 6 p.m. Monday — then a nearby flash of lightning.
The 31 gathered under the tarp were stunned by a booming clap of thunder that followed the lightning strike on the tree barely 30 feet away. Some began to feel burning, tingling sensations about 20 minutes later.
Spider-web like marks appeared on the arms and legs of some and a half dozen Scouts — ages 13-17 — were transported from the hilltop camping area to the base headquarters of the scout reservation, Boyle said.
Boyle suspects the lightening coursed down the 100-foot pine and into its root system, which stretched under the tarp where the Scouts were gathered.
Minutes later more Scouts developed the same symptoms and sensations and by night's end, 23 had been transported to area hospitals for treatment and observation. Most were treated and released. Six who went to Concord Hospital were held overnight, Boyle said.
Belmont Fire Chief David Parenti, who helped triage the Scouts after they were injured, said Tuesday he was most concerned about six of them whose burns involved the chest area. He said lightning burns typically have an entry and an exit wound, marked by those spidery lines on the skin, which helped the firefighters and EMTs triaging them to identify whose injuries were of most concern.
"What happened was, with some of the kids, you could see the burn come into the hand, up the arm, across the chest and out the other arm," Parenti said. "That's an entrance and exit that crosses the chest, definitely."
The Belmont Fire Department, staffed 24 hours a day, has 12-point heart monitors that were used to assess the Scouts' conditions.
Parenti said the boys were "incredibly calm" throughout the ordeal.
"No one was screaming or yelling. Whatever we asked them to do, they did," Parenti said.
Boyle said it helped that the program the Scouts were participating in is an elite one designed to give them skills to go back and lead their troops, and they must complete years of scouting before they can participate. Its participants, he said, come from all over the Eastern seaboard and as far south as Florida.
Boyle and Greg Olson, spokesman for the Daniel Webster Council of the Boy Scouts of America, would not let a reporter interview the Scouts who had returned to the program Tuesday because they did not have releases from their parents.
Scout officials said lightning strikes at camp are not unusual, but not on the scale of Monday's hit.