Rare July rain is mixed blessing for Southern Calif. firefighters

As the sun sets Friday, a DC-10 supertanker makes its final drop of fire retardant over a ridge a few miles from Idyllwild.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Southern California got a rare dose of July rain Saturday, as monsoonal moisture pushed in from Arizona and provided some relief from hot summer weather.

The humid conditions, expected to last through Monday, were helping firefighters battling the Mountain fire near Palm Springs and the Rancho fire near the Grapevine. But fire crews were concerned about the possibility of lightning strikes, which could spark new fires, or thunderstorms that may unleash heavy rain and could trigger flash flooding and powerful flows of debris falling down the mountainside.

Light rain in the Los Angeles Basin and Orange County was expected to bring precipitation of just 0.15 inches.


Most places won’t see enough rain to scratch summer picnic plans, but a small number of places could see a stray thunderstorm that could dump as much as half an inch of rain on a location, “and there’s no way we can pinpoint where that is,” said Miguel Miller, a National Weather Service forecaster in San Diego.

“I wouldn’t cancel plans,” Miller said, “but it’s something to certainly be aware of. If you’re out somewhere, you might need to pick up quickly.”

The increased humidity and cloud cover has brought temperatures to more comfortable conditions in the 70s in the L.A. Basin and 80s in the valleys.

Firefighters were getting the upper hand on the Rancho fire near the Grapevine, which briefly forced the closure of the 5 Freeway on Friday and triggered evacuations in the town of Lebec. The evacuation order is still under effect, but the fire is now 65% surrounded by containment lines, and the freeway has reopened, said Kern County Fire Department engineer Anthony Romero.

Firefighters, however, were still on alert for any lightning strikes that could worsen the situation, Romero said.

Near Palm Springs, firefighters were also gaining control of the Mountain fire, which broke out Monday and damaged or destroyed more than a dozen structures, including some homes. Spokeswoman Candy Lupe said that fire is 25% surrounded, and the lower temperatures and rising humidity has made the fire less active today.

A portion of the fire is near the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and half a dozen crews were in that area to defend the area.


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