Hundreds of lightning strikes spark fires, Forest Service concerns

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Lightning hit the Tahoe National Forest hard over the weekend, with some bolts striking near Foresthill. The National Forest Service reported 407 lightning strikes in the Tahoe forest area, which takes in parts of eastern Placer County. Ann Westling, Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman, said five of the strikes caused small fires over the weekend. The fires were in the area northeast of Sierraville and most were limited to single trees, she said. Maps provided by the Forest Service show strikes southwest of the mountain community of Foresthill, 17 miles east of Auburn, and near the Middle Fork of the American River. The unsettled mountain weather was felt lower in the foothills Sunday, with a smattering of rain hitting Auburn in the morning. But no lightning was reported in lower regions as cloud cover moved through. After 90-degree days over the previous two weeks, temperatures hovered around the 80-degree mark during the daylight hours Sunday. Things got cooler overnight, dropping into the low 50s. Monday saw more highs around the mid-70s, with temperatures falling to the low- to –mid-50s overnight. Meteorologist Drew Peterson, of the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office, said Monday that there were even reports of snow over the Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park on Sunday – an early sign that winter is on its way. Tioga Pass is 9,900 feet above sea level. Auburn should remain sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s for the remainder of the week. Rain showers are forecast in the Sierra but no snow. Clouds should pass over the foothills but then bump up against the mountains and drop some rain, Peterson said. “A low-pressure system is going to stay over California for several days,” Peterson said. In all, the Forest Service reported 8,598 lightning strikes throughout the state over the weekend. Humidity and cooler temperatures definitely are helping keep the number of lightning-caused fires down after the storm, Westling said. As an added precaution, the Forest Service was sending an airplane up Monday to fly a reconnaissance flight looking for smoke from the air, she said.