Wild Weather Fans Forest Fires Across California

This photo provided by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett, a funnel appears in a thick plume of smoke from the Loyalton Fire is seen in Lassen County, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. A wildfire in Northern California on Saturday spawned at least one fire tornado that prompted the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning. The Loyalton Fire in Lassen County, Calif., burned intensely amid hot and dry conditions on Saturday afternoon. (Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett via AP)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Raging wildfires fueled by scorching heat and dry winds continued ripping through California forests Monday as firefighters carved containment lines to suppress flames that have destroyed dozens of structures and now threaten thousands of homes.

Multiple regions in the Golden State experienced triple-digit heat over the weekend, which when mixed with plumes of wildfire smoke led to unhealthy air quality — including high levels of ozone — for millions of residents.  

In Northern California, a severe lightning event sparked multiple small fires and power outages across the San Francisco Bay Area. The thunderstorm was fueled by a tropical storm that swelled offshore Sunday.

The National Weather Service issued a warning Monday that the region could see another round of lightning while wind gusts are expected to reach 75 mph.

A rare lightning storm crackles over Mitchell’s Cove in Santa Cruz, California around 3 a.m. Sunday morning August 16. The severe storm system rolled through the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas early Sunday, packing a combination of dry lightning and high winds that triggered wildfires throughout the region. The National Weather Service on Sunday extended a red flag fire warning for the entire Bay Area until 11 a.m. Monday morning. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

East of the Bay Area, weather conditions over the weekend also fueled a raging wildfire that broke out near Lake Tahoe. At one point, officials reported a fire-induced tornado produced after high winds whipped up the flames.

The Loyalton Fire has scorched over 36,000 acres of timber and sage brush as of Monday. Officials said containment is at 5% and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

In Southern California, the Lake Fire has burned more than 18,500 acres of thick brush and trees and has destroyed at least 21 residential and commercial structures as of Monday. 

Fire crews face difficulty ascending steep hillsides in the Angeles National Forest where the blaze — fueled by dry brush — is sparking inaccessible hot spots in an already unforgiving terrain.

But officials estimate 31% of the blaze has been contained thanks to the nearly 1,900 firefighters on the scene.

The fire, burning near northwest Los Angeles County, grew to 11,600 acres less than two days after it was first reported last week. Officials said Monday the fire may spread as the National Weather Service forecasts predict high pressure over the region with temperatures reaching 108 degrees and humidity levels between 10% to 19%.

“Winds will be light in the morning out of the northwest, becoming gusty out of the southwest in the afternoon,” officials said in a statement. “This will cause instability in the area, with the possibility of another smoke plume over the fire.”

Flames are burning through an area of the forest that has not seen a fire in 80 to 100 years, meaning thick, plentiful sources of fuel have built up for nearly a century.

Thunderstorms and high temperatures are also a challenge for firefighters battling a wildfire in the foothills near the LA suburb of Azusa. 

The Ranch2 Fire was 7% contained as of Sunday, according to a video update by public information officer Amanda Munsey.

Munsey said in the video the fire has burned at least 2,500 acres, though no evacuation orders are in place.

In neighboring Riverside County, the Apple Fire has burned over 33,400 acres but was 95% contained as of Monday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

California secured federal financial funds to help fight the River Fire, which began Sunday in Monterey County and has already scorched 2,600 acres.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s office said high winds and record-breaking temperatures in the region are causing “extreme fire behavior, even in overnight hours.”

While the fire is 10% contained as of Monday afternoon, it is still threatening homes in the area of Pine Canyon, Indian Springs and Las Palmas and evacuation orders have been issued.

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