Lightning sparks nearly 60 fires in Northern California

Firefighters are battling nearly 60 fires sparked by lightning in Northern California

Firefighters in Northern California have battled nearly 60 wildfires sparked by about 2,600 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 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, thunderstorms, 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 minutes.

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

Even with the unusually rainy weather, firefighters aren’t dropping their guard because the risk of explosive fires remains high, he said.

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.

Monday kicked off the official start of fire season. Fire officials expressed concern that recording-breaking heat and continuous 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 dangerous fires.

A lightning-sparked fire forced smoke jumpers 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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