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California wildfires may spread as thunderstorms move north

Lightning from new thunderstorms may spark even more wildfires in Central and Northern California

Lightning from thunderstorms moving across California today could spark more wildfires in areas of the state already burning or under smoke-filled skies.

Thousands of acres have already burned in Central and Northern California, where firefighting resources have been stretched thin by fires that have ripped through tinder-dry vegetation and forest land, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday to declare a state of emergency.

Many of the fires burning in state and national forests have been sparked by lightning — nearly 1,000 bolts ignited at least 26 fires in Siskiyou County last week alone, according to the U.S. National Forest Service.

More lightning could be on the way as the thunderstorm system that produced torrential rain in San Bernardino County over the weekend heads north to the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, forecasters said. The system is expected to weaken, but any lightning could exacerbate an already devastating fire season.

"We're seeing fire behavior we wouldn't normally see until September," said Dennis Mathisen, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "With warmer weather conditions, low humidity and some wind, and all you need is a spark and a series of dry lightning strikes, and that's a recipe for disaster."

The largest blaze burning in the state, the Bald fire, has burned nearly 40,000 acres in Lassen National Forest after being sparked by lightning on July 30. Full containment isn't expected until Aug. 17, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fires also continue to rage in El Dorado, Amador, Butte, Humboldt, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta and Siskiyou counties, burning tens of thousands of acres.

Evacuations have been ordered in some parts of the state, mostly rural areas.

One of the most serious blazes, the Day fire, was burning on California's most northeastern region, Modoc County, where  five homes had burned and 150 others were threatened. The fire had burned 12,850 acres and was 45% contained as of Sunday, according to CalFire.

Meanwhile, the destructive Sand fire in California's Gold Country was finally contained over the weekend by firefighters in El Dorado and Amador counties, CalFire reported. The 4,240-acre fire, sparked by a vehicle driving in dry vegetation, destroyed 20 residences and 47 outbuildings.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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