NWS Reports Over 1,100 Lightning Strikes in California, Sparking New Wildfires

Lightning struck more than 1,100 times in California between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to reports from the National Weather Service. The lightning strikes ignited additional blazes in a state that has been ravaged by wildfires in the hot, dry summer months.

Of the 1,100 strikes, 110 occurred in the Bay Area. Additional flashes between clouds were too numerous to count and not factored into the total, the Associated Press reported.

Firefighters working to fight the extensive Caldor Fire south of Lake Tahoe were sent to combat the new fires ignited by the lightning in El Dorado County, according to the local unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The largest of the new fires ignited in heavy brush lining the terrain in Kanaka Valley, but firefighters were able to stop its spread at less than seven acres with the help of rain from the storm.

Another fire believed to have erupted from the lightning strikes burned in Mendocino County, which is north of San Francisco Bay. The blaze was able to cover eight acres as of Friday morning, the Press Democrat reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lightning Sparks Fires in California
The National Weather Service documented more than 1,100 lightning strikes in California between Thursday evening and Friday morning, sparking new fires in the state. Lightning strikes west of Luxor Hotel and Casino (L) and Excalibur Hotel & Casino during a thunderstorm on July 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Lightning blitzes can have disastrous outcomes in parched California. Last year's record amount of land burned included huge Northern California fires that were ignited when remnants of a tropical storm unleashed thousands of bolts.

A cluster of 2020 lightning fires known as the August Complex burned more than 1,615 square miles and is considered the largest California wildfire on record.

Rainfall from the thunderstorms between Thursday and Friday was no drought-buster but was welcome anyway.

The official downtown San Francisco rain gauge recorded 0.01 inches of rain by 5 a.m., marking the first time it has rained there on September 10 since 1978, the weather service said. The most recent measurable September rain in the city happened in 2019.

In the Central Valley, Sacramento Executive Airport received 0.05 inches of rain by 8 a.m. The last time at least that much rain fell was 175 days earlier on March 18, the weather service said.

Thunderstorms with downpours also moved through parts of Southern California on Thursday and early Friday, triggering flash flood concerns for burn scars of past wildfires.

The threat of new lightning-sparked fires came as more than 13,000 firefighters were working to rein in 13 major fires and more than 12,700 residents were still waiting to return to evacuated homes, according to state agencies.

The Caldor Fire, the 15th-largest in state history, was 53 percent contained after burning more than 341 square miles and destroying more than 1,000 structures, including hundreds of homes.

In the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades, the Dixie Fire covered more than 1,485 square miles. Second in size to the August Complex, it has destroyed more than 1,300 structures.

A historic drought and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

President Joe Biden will survey fire damage during a visit to California next week in which he will also campaign for Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who faces a recall election on Tuesday.

Firefighters Battle Wildfires in California
Firefighters are working to stop new fires ignited by lightning between Thursday evening and Friday morning. Firefighters are lit by a backfire set to prevent the Caldor Fire from spreading near South Lake Tahoe, California on September 1, 2021. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo