Lightning wildfires spread across western slope |

Lightning wildfires spread across western slope

Pat Butler, Sun news service
and the Associated Press
Greyson Howard/Sierra Sun

Over 100 lightning bolts that rattled the Sierras on Saturday afternoon ignited at least 25 wildfires in the Tahoe National Forest, including two sizable blazes in Nevada County, and one in Placer, all on the western slope.

Smoke from these fires and others around California has settled into the Truckee and Tahoe basins.

The Fall Fire west of Bowman Road and the Skotchman Fire, both near Highway 20 in eastern Nevada County, were of the greatest concern Sunday evening, said Ann Westling, fire information officer for Tahoe National Forest.

As of 10 a.m. Monday the Fall Fire had burned over 1,000 acres and at one point the California Highway Patrol was evacuating campers and hikers from the Bowman Lake area, even though fire officials had not requested it.

The Skotchman Fire, which is east of the town of Washington, had torched 450 acres.

Westling said Washington was not being threatened by the fire and the southerly winds that kicked up Sunday were pushing the blazes away from the small town.

Westling said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Calfire) officials had no estimated time of containment for either fire. She also reported that no structures had burned in any of Sunday’s area fires nor were any injuries reported.

Overall, 3,000 lightning strikes started 602 fires in Northern California, according to CalFire and the Forest Service.

“They were all started by lightning,” Westland said of the Tahoe Forest fires. “Actually, though, the Tahoe District didn’t get hit as hard as the other forests in the state.”

The lightning strikes started five other fires in eastern Nevada County, the largest being the Gaston Fire that burned 12 acres north of Highway 20. All of the smaller fires have been contained.

Calfire crews battled 11 fires Sunday in Placer County. The fire of greatest concern was the Forest Hills Fire, which had burned 50 acres and was within five miles of the town of Forest Hills. Westland said that fire was 50 percent contained as of 7:15 p.m.

Another fire had spread across nearly 6 square miles by early Sunday after starting the previous afternoon in Napa County and quickly moving into a mostly rural area of Solano County. That fire threatened more than 100 buildings as it fed on grassy woodland, said CalFire spokesman Roger Archey. It was 35 percent contained Sunday evening and had destroyed one home, officials said. Evacuations were ordered for some residents.

Wildfires have destroyed more than 175 homes in Northern California so far this year. Blazes started popping up in the region just as California’s unofficial fire season began in mid-May, following the state’s driest two-month period on record.

Two small blazes about 25 miles south of San Jose forced several residents from their homes Sunday. Both were partially contained, and officials said most residents would be let back into their homes by Monday. Those fires were also blamed on lightning.

Thunderstorms were responsible for as many as 75 fires in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. They ranged in size from less than an acre to more than a square mile. None immediately threatened homes, said Forest Service spokesman Michael Odle.

Mendocino County had as many as 90 fires, charring nearly 8 square miles, CalFire officials said.

South of San Francisco, a fire that destroyed homes and closed a stretch of highway was 90 percent contained after charring just less than a square mile. Evacuation orders were lifted Saturday, a day after roughly 2,000 people fled their homes.

It was the third major blaze to hit Santa Cruz County in the past month. A 520-acre blaze destroyed 11 buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a fire near Corralitos covered more than 4,200 acres and destroyed about 100 buildings.

Along the coast in the Los Padres National Forest, a wildfire burning since Saturday forced 75 homes and businesses to be evacuated. And just miles away, firefighters worked to stanch a huge fire that has destroyed two homes since it began two weeks ago. It was nearly 60 percent contained after charring 83 square miles.

Near the Nevada border, authorities said Sunday that they are studying a “person of interest” in last summer’s catastrophic Lake Tahoe wildfire but lack enough evidence to make an arrest. Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the blaze, which destroyed 254 homes, caused $140 million in property damage and scorched nearly 5 square miles. Investigators think the fire started with stray embers from an illegal campfire at a popular party spot.

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