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Rare lightning storms threaten California after ‘wild night’ sparks multiple Bay Area fires

Lightning strikes the San Francisco Bay Area
Lightning is seen in the San Francisco Bay Area on Sunday.
(George Chikovani)

Rare lightning storms struck the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay region Sunday morning, sparking multiple vegetation fires in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

There’s an elevated risk of fire danger across wide swaths of California on Sunday because of the risk of lightning. Thunderstorms are also possible across Southern California.

“Wild night in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is probably the most widespread and violent summer thunderstorm event in memory for Bay Area, & it’s also one of the hottest nights in years,” tweeted Daniel Swain, climate scientist with UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

A three-acre wildfire was reported in the area of 20730 Brush Road in the mountains south of Los Gatos in Santa Clara County. At 3:17 a.m., the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tweeted that it was wind-driven and had threatened structures and that, with power lines down, officials were starting evacuations. Subsequent rain, however, helped to slow the fire’s spread.

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But elsewhere in the Bay Area, the thunderstorms seemed mostly to be dry. And that’s making these lightning storms especially dangerous, in combination with the high winds, Swain tweeted. Peak gusts of up to 74 mph were reported in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and up to 70 mph in Marin County.

The erratic wind gusts are capable of causing power lines to fall, downing trees and making driving difficult, the National Weather Service said. “Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning,” the weather service said. Officials say that “when thunder roars, go indoors.”

By 4:27 a.m., Cal-FIRE said firefighters were at the scene of seven vegetation fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

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California is also suffering through an oppressive heatwave, with records across the state falling for the date. In Los Angeles County, Woodland Hills hit a high of 112, breaking the old record of 108, set in 1977, and UCLA hit a high of 92, breaking the record set for the date in 2003, when the high for Aug. 15 was 90 degrees.

In the Bay Area, Napa hit a high of 103 on Saturday, breaking the record of 102, set in 1906; the temperature in Gilroy shot up to 108, breaking the high for the date set only last year, when the mercury hit 104.

Downtown Sacramento hit a high temperature on Saturday of 111 degrees, breaking the previous record for the date, last set in 1920, when the temperature reached 108 degrees.

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The searing heat caused power consumption to spike, forcing rolling blackouts in parts of California on Saturday night.

Two brush fires in Southern California continued Saturday to burn thousands of acres, force hundreds of people from their homes and contribute to unhealthy air quality across the region.

Times staff writers Tony Barboza, Jack Dolan, Paul Duginski, Leila Miller and Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.


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