California saw 163 new wildfires last week, most sparked by lightning

California firefighters fought 163 new wildfires last week, most of them sparked by lightning

California firefighters responded to 163 new wildfires last week, most of them sparked by lightning in parched forest lands.

The wildfires further stretched firefighting resources that have already been spread thin by fire activity across the state that has far exceeded what agencies experienced last year.

The "substantial increase" in wildfire activity is mostly the result of ongoing “exceptional drought” conditions throughout the state, according to Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“Conditions across the state continue to be extremely dry and fire potential continues to be very high throughout California,” he said.

This year, firefighters from Cal Fire have responded to 4,132 wildfires, which have scorched 80,634 acres.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited Redding last week, speaking with officials about the series of wildfires that have plagued Northern California.

“We are confronting new wildland fire challenges due to climate change, extended period of drought, fuel buildup and development in fire-prone areas,” Jewell said in a statement. “We need a better way to fund escalating wildfire suppression costs.”

Jewell backed President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal that would balance fire suppression costs during extreme fire seasons, much like funds are budgeted for other emergency disasters, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In the last two years, the Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture have diverted more than $1 billion from other programs to pay for firefighting efforts.

Gov. Jerry Brown has also declared a state of emergency because of a series of fires burning in central and northern California counties.  

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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