San Francisco Chronicle
Firefighters wary despite light rain
More than 3,000 lightning strikes were recorded in Northern and Central California during a 24-hour period ending Friday evening, sparking some new fires but none that have become major incidents, fire officials said.
Thunderstorms that rolled through the Bay Area and across the state on Thursday night delivered some of the lightning and also dampened bone-dry vegetation with small amounts of rain, fire officials said.
Eight new fire starts — all of which were sparked by lightning — were recorded in the Caldor Fire area in El Dorado County, Amador County and in the Tahoe Basin, Cal Fire officials said during a Friday afternoon community meeting. Four new fire starts from lightning were reported at the Lake Tahoe Basin, Caldor Fire operations section chief Kyle Jacobson said.
Firefighters also battled the Windy Fire in Tulare County on the Tule River Indian Reservation. It had burned 115 acres by Friday afternoon. Two small fires were also reported in Mendocino County northeast of Cloverdale, but they were quickly contained.
The storms brought lightning, but also brought temporary moistening of dry fuels in the Caldor Fire zone, said Cal Fire incident commander Anale Burlew. She urged residents to understand that those moistened fuels will “dry out and we’re going to be right back to where we are with ... critically dry fuels.”
“This is not a season-ending event, unfortunately,” Burlew said.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, said the rain, while light, may have prevented some lightning fires but cautioned that “record-dry vegetation” increases the possibility that small fires that weren’t detected could pop up in coming days.
Roughly 110 lightning
strikes hit the ground in the Bay Area, including one in the area of last year’s massive SCU Lightning Complex fires in Santa Clara County. The weather service uses an extensive network of lightning sensors to track and count lightning strikes.
Farther north, the storm brought heavy winds to Shasta County, where it whipped the Dixie Fire toward the small towns of Hat Creek and Old Station.
The storm also dropped small amounts of rain that did little more than dampen vegetation in the Dixie Fire zone.
“The welcome moisture won’t help firefighters much because the forest is extremely dry,” said Cal Fire in a morning briefing.
Firefighters were diverted from the Caldor Fire to fight five lightning fires Thursday after 10 p.m. throughout El Dorado County, said Cal Fire spokesperson Diana Swart.
Lightning from heavy storms passing through started the largest blaze, on Kanaka Valley Road in a small town called Rescue. That fire, burning in heavy brush and steep terrain, was 30% contained as of 10:15 a.m.
“It’s very important that we are not complacent today — that we don’t let these few raindrops lull ourselves into a sense of complacency and that we seize the opportunity ahead of us in the next 24 hours to turn the corner,” said Burlew, at a Caldor Fire briefing Friday.
The Caldor Fire remained on Friday night at 218,459 acres with 53% containment and nearly 4,000 personnel assigned. Jacobson said during a Friday afternoon community meeting that fire officials anticipate an increase of containment on Saturday.
North of the Caldor Fire, the Dixie Fire grew by more than 3,000 acres from Friday morning to Friday evening, reaching 950,591 acres, according to a Cal Fire Friday evening incident update.
Erratic winds increased fire activity in the northern part of the Dixie Fire “as it has crossed north of Highway 44 into the Hat Creek Rim area,” Cal Fire officials said in a Friday evening incident update.
The fire remained at 59% containment on Friday night.