Lightning sparks new wildfires in Northern California

West

Lightning forks over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a storm passes over Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Numerous lightning strikes early Sunday sparked brush fires throughout the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

SAN FRANCISCO (NewsNation/AP) — A rare summer thunderstorm brought lightning that sparked several small blazes in Northern California on Sunday.

In Northern California, a thunderstorm moving rapidly from the Pacific Ocean onshore brought thunder and more than 4,000 lightning strikes, some of which ignited small fires and knocked out power across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wind gusts reached 75 mph (121 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

“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, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Unsettling weather triggered an unusual warning by the weather service of a fire-induced tornado at an out-of-control forest fire that broke out north of Lake Tahoe on Saturday afternoon.

A massive fire cloud known as a pyrocumulonimbus formed over the fire, which started east of the town of Loyalton. When high winds came into contact with the fire and whipped it into the air, a spectacular tornado-shaped spiral of flames was formed.

The fire has burned at least 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) and triggered evacuation orders for sparsely populated portions of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra County, said Tahoe National Forest spokesman Joe Flannery.

Firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters and air tankers faced “extreme fire behavior,” he said, and worked through the night to extinguish spot fires and protect threatened structures.

At one point, the fast-moving fire jumped a highway and came dangerously close to a fire truck. A fire crew from Truckee tweeted a video of firefighters dragging hoses as they ran alongside a moving truck that was dodging the flames.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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