Light­ning sparks fires in north of state

Most are con­tained, but of­fi­cials warn larger blazes could still grow. Risk re­mains high be­cause of dry veg­e­ta­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Veron­ica Rocha veron­ica.rocha @la­times.com Twit­ter: @Veron­i­caRochaLA

Fire­fight­ers in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia have bat­tled nearly 60 wild­fires sparked by light­ning strikes brought on by rem­nants of Trop­i­cal Storm Blanca, fire of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day.

The light­ning-gen­er­ated fires in seven forests have forced both the U.S. For­est Ser­vice and the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion to in­crease their staffing.

The fires are small. At 30 acres, the Bald fire in Hum­boldt County is the big­gest, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Ber­lant. Most fires have been less than an acre and quickly con­tained. But the larger fires could still grow, he said.

The se­ries of fires be­gan Mon­day and con­tin­ued through Wed­nes­day as storms moved across the re­gion, bring­ing light­ning, wind, rain and in some in­stances, golf ball-sized hail.

On Tues­day, Shin­gle­town, a com­mu­nity north of Sacra­mento, re­ceived 1.04 inches of rain in 30 min- utes.

“Our weather has been very un­usual this year,” Ber­lant said.

Fire­fight­ers aren’t low­er­ing their guard, he said, be­cause the risk of ex­plo­sive blazes re­mains high.

That’s be­cause what lit­tle rain Cal­i­for­nia re­ceived in May wasn’t enough to hy­drate dry veg­e­ta­tion, Ber­lant said. Above-nor­mal tem­per­a­tures have sucked away any mois­ture left be­hind by the re­cent rains.

Fire ac­tiv­ity has in­creased, and it doesn’t ap­pear to be slow­ing down.

Just last week, Cal Fire bat­tled 250 fires, Ber­lant said.

Fire sea­son of­fi­cially started Mon­day. Of­fi­cials ex­pressed con­cern that record­ing-break­ing heat and con­tin­u­ing drought could lead to dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires.

A fire out­look pre­pared by the Na­tional In­ter­a­gency Fire Cen­ter’s Pre­dic­tive Ser­vices sug­gested a strength­en­ing El Niño could re­sult in more dry light­ning than last sum­mer, pos­si­bly lead­ing to more fires.

A light­ning-sparked fire forced smoke­jumpers with the U.S. For­est Ser­vice to deploy in April this year, the ear­li­est since the pro­gram was es­tab­lished 58 years ago.

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