Randall Benton / RBenton@sacbee.com

Lightning snakes through the sky early Monday in El Dorado County. The predawn thunderstorm was accompanied by rain, which reduced the fire danger in the forests.

Lightning sparks small wildfires

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2012 - 11:50 am

A predawn thunderstorm lit up Sacramento skies Sunday night and Monday, while in the Sierra, lightning strikes sparked a number of small fires.

During the 24-hour period that ended at 6 a.m. Monday, more than 1,200 lightning strikes were recorded in or near the Tahoe and Eldorado national forests, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

Between midnight and 6 a.m., 541 lightning strikes were reported in the Tahoe National Forest, said spokeswoman Ann Westling. As of Monday afternoon, 20 fires had been reported, most covering less than an acre.

By Monday evening, Cal Fire reported it was battling the so-called Amador Lightning Complex – 16 fires totaling 79 acres in Amador and El Dorado counties. It was 20 percent contained, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. Cal Fire had responded to about 50 fires sparked by lightning Sunday or Monday in Northern California.

Frank Mosbacher, spokesman for the Eldorado National Forest, said 679 lightning strikes were recorded inside or within a mile of the national forest.

Most occurred between 8 p.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday and most involved a single tree, Mosbacher said. Thirteen small fires of less than a quarter acre were reported.

Westling said a Forest Service air attack plane flew over the area Monday looking for additional areas of smoke. Approximately 150 Forest Service firefighters worked to contain the fires in the Tahoe National Forest.

"We frequently get lightning bursts," Westling said.

The thunderstorms were accompanied by rain, which reduced the fire danger.

"We expect to see additional smokes as things dry out," Mosbacher said.

Most of the fires were in remote areas, and presented no threat to homes.

Although summer thunderstorms are common in the Sierra, "it happens rarely that they drift into the valley," said Johnny Powell, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

Sunday's storm activity tied the record of a trace of rain for July 22 at Sacramento Executive Airport, and the 0.03 inches that fell there Monday bested the day's record of a trace of rain, Powell said.

The thunderstorms were moving out of the Sierra into Nevada on Monday night, and sunshine is expected today in the Valley and the mountains. The National Weather Service expects a high of 93 degrees for Sacramento, with highs in the mid-70s expected in the Sierra around Blue Canyon.

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