Unusual lightning storm starts series of wildfires

Unusual lightning storm starts series of wildfires

22 June 2008

published by eurekareporter.com

Ca, USA — Fire crews already spread thin fighting blazes across California are dealing with a flurry of new fires on the North Coast caused from an unusual and powerful lightning storm that struck on Friday.

As of Saturday evening, CAL FIRE reported that approximately 37 lightning-caused fires were started during the past 24 hours in widely scattered areas of its Humboldt-Del Norte Unit.

“It’s been a very busy day,” said CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Joe Fassler Saturday.

No structures were reported to be threatened as of Saturday and there have been no reported injuries from the fires that CAL FIRE officials said are generally burning in remote areas.

With firefighter and public safety paramount, CAL FIRE officials stated in a news release that the agency will not be placing crews and engines in fire areas unless they “can provide for their utmost safety.”

While many of the fires that began Friday afternoon as a result of the lightning storm were reportedly a few acres or less in size and have been contained, other fires stretch from southern Humboldt County where most of the lightning strikes reportedly struck to as far north as Klamath.

CAL FIRE announced it had deployed ten engines, five hand crews, two air tankers and one helicopter to battle the fires that range in size from a single tree to approximately 40 acres.

The forty-acre fire burning along Carson Creek north of Redcrest, has Pacific Lumber Co. and Green Diamond Resource Co. working cooperatively with CAL FIRE to locate and contain fires on their property, CAL FIRE reported.

U.S. Forest Service indicated its resources continue to respond to the large number of lightning fires in the North Coast area.

“We have lightning fires on all four Ranger Districts within the Six Rivers National Forest,” stated Forest Fire Chief Kent Swartzlander. “There have been 50 reported fires and we expect this number will increase as more fires are located.”

The five largest fires being staffed include the 25-acre Sims Fire in the Lower Trinity District, the 25-acre Blue Fire in the Gasquet District/Smith River National Recreation Area, the 35-acres Mill Fire in the Orleans Ranger District, the 50-acre Travis Fires in the Mad River District and the 20-acre Lassic Fire also in the Mad River District.

Six Rivers National Forest stated it has four hand crews, three Hotshot crews, 17 engines, eight smoke jumpers, one air attack, one air tanker, and one recon plane assigned to those fires.

Meteorologist Mark Burger of the National Weather Service’s Eureka office on Woodley Island called Friday’s thunderstorm “a huge event and very uncharacteristic for this area.”

“These episodes usually occur in late July when the monsoon moisture arrives,” he said.

Burger said the unusual North Coast’s lightning storm was a result of a combination of moisture funneled from the tropics and an upper-air disturbance of colder air.

Burger said there were approximately 2,000 cloud-to-ground lighting strikes that were first recorded at 4:22 p.m. on Friday by the private firm Vaisala’s national lightning detection network, which measures the events and provides information to the Weather Service.

“Despite the massive display, we got relatively few strikes,” Burger said of the Humboldt Bay area.

The lightning strikes, which also hit inland Trinity County, were particular concentrated over Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino counties.

The Weather Service is forecasting the next several days to be warm and drier, which Burger said may cause problems for ongoing fire suppression efforts.

Firefighters farther inland were also reacting to as many as 75 fires reported in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest ranging in size from less than an acre to more than 750 acres.

While no homes or structures were threatened as of Saturday evening, U.S. Forest Service fire management officials said they are gaining access to fire acreage, monitoring weather conditions, acquiring additional resources and watching fire behavior.

“Lightning starts are common on the forest, where typically half of the annual fires are naturally caused,” said Forest Service Spokesperson Michael Odle.

More than 20 smoke jumpers have been deployed to fires located in remote, difficult to access areas of the forest.

A recorded line updated daily with current fire information is available by phoning 530-226-2500 and pressing “2.”

Governor orders state troops to assist with wildfires

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday ordered the California National Guard to assist in combating the wildfires burning in Northern California that sparked an estimated 400 fires from lightning from Monterey and Fresno counties to the Oregon-California border.

The Governor’s Office, which indicated in a news release that it is in continuous contact with the state’s Office of Emergency Services, CAL FIRE and the California National Guard, has ordered the mobilization of six helicopters and one RC-26 remote sensing platform to help with the firefighting efforts.

The National Guard will deploy four Type-I helicopters for aerial fire suppression and two Type-III observation helicopters to assist in tracking and locating fires.

The RC-26 Remote Sensing Platform will be used to assist in coordinating the state’s firefighting response, according to a news release.

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