Nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours ignite more than 300 fires in California

By BILL HUTCHISON, ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) — Nearly 11,000 lightning strikes over 72 hours ignited hundreds of fires across California that have roared through wildland, destroyed homes and forced thousands to evacuate.

The historic lightning siege left firefighters scrambling from one end of the state to the other and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a statewide emergency, calling for extra personnel and equipment to battle the conflagrations from the ground and from the air.

“What has occurred over the last 72 hours has certainly stretched the resources of this state,” Newsom said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The fires have come during a record-breaking heatwave in California, with temperatures soaring past 100 degrees every day this week.

“Over the past 72 hours, California has experienced a historic lightning siege,” said Jeremy Rahn, division chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, aka Cal Fire.

Rahn said that more than 10,849 lightning strikes had started 367 new fires since Monday, adding that “resources are depleted as new fires continue to ignite.”

No deaths have been reported, but multiple people have been injured attempting to flee the fires, officials said. Two of the largest are in Northern California.

The so-called SCU Lightning Complex fire, which started on Tuesday, had burned more than 85,000 acres across Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties and was only 5% contained on Wednesday afternoon.

Farther north, in Sonoma and Napa counties, which have been devastated by massive fires in recent years, more than 46,000 acres had burned in the LNU Lightning Complex blaze, which has destroyed or damaged 100 structures and was threatening 1,900 others, officials said.

Evacuation orders were issued in cities throughout Sonoma and Napa counties.

Marcia Ritz, an artist, told ABC News that she and her husband fled their Spanish Flats mobile home park in hills of Napa County near Lake Berryessa. When Ritz returned to the mobile home park, her residence and her neighbors’ had been destroyed.

“The worst part is, I’m an artist and I lost all my artwork,” Ritz said.

As she shined a flashlight where her home of 13 years had stood, Ritz, who also runs a nearby general store, tearfully exclaimed to her husband, “Oh my God, there’s nothing.”

“My house was so nice, too,” she said. “We’ve had fires around us for years. For four years in a row we’ve had fire problems, but it’s never gotten like this.”

Ritz said she and her husband were working at the store and monitoring fire conditions on Tuesday.

“And then it was like, we have to get out,” she said.

In Southern California, firefighters had gotten a handle on the Apple Fire in the Cherry Valley of Riverside County, according to Cal Fire. The blaze, which ignited July 31, was 95% contained on Wednesday after burning more than 33,000 acres, destroying four structures and injuring four people.

Mandatory evacuations also were ordered in the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County, where the Lake Fire, which started on Monday in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes, was 38% contained on Wednesday after burning 26,000 acres, officials said.

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