Lightning storms mass over California, Oregon as wildfires blaze

FILE PHOTO: Firefighter fight fire near torching trees as wildfire burns near Yosemite National Park in this US Forest Service photo released on social media from California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Courtesy USFS/Yosemite National Park/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Storm clouds gathered over southern Oregon and northern California early on Wednesday, threatening to spark more wildfires with lightning strikes as emergency crews battled several deadly blazes, forecasters said.

The clouds carried little rain and offered little chance of a break from the bone-dry conditions plaguing the region, the National Weather Service said.

“Initial attack resources could be overwhelmed,” it added in a red flag announcement.

Elsewhere, crews made slow but steady progress against wildfires including one, called the Mendocino Complex, which has become largest in California’s history and killed one firefighter from Utah on Monday.

Emergency crews had managed to set up containment lines around almost two thirds the fire which has raged through the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

That fire has scorched 355,000 acres (144,000 hectares) and destroyed 265 structures, it added.

To the northeast, firefighters have been able to carve containment lines around 65 percent of the Carr Fire, which has killed three firefighters, four civilians and a utility worker and burned more than 1,500 structures. The Carr Fire has blackened 211,000 acres, Cal Fire said.

The heart of Yosemite National Park in California was reopened to the public on Tuesday after it was shut down for nearly three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire, which has caused two deaths. But smoke lingered in the air and a key route to the park’s best-known landmarks remained closed.

The 100,000-acre fire, which is about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Francisco, was 86 percent contained after igniting a month ago, authorities said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

More than 100 large wildfires in U.S. as new blazes erupt

Smoke rises over a hillside on fire in Fairfield, California, the U.S., August 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Erika Bjork/Twitter/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Six large new wildfires erupted in the United States, pushing the number of major active blazes nationwide to over 100, with more expected to break out sparked by lightning strikes on bone-dry terrain, authorities said on Saturday.

More than 30,000 personnel, including firefighters from across the United States and nearly 140 from Australia and New Zealand, were battling the blazes that have consumed more than 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

“We are expecting that there will be more fire-starts today,” Jeremy Grams, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, said in an interview on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018 shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018, shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

He said dry thunderstorms, which produce lightning but little rain, are expected for parts of the Rocky Mountain region, while the U.S. northwest has critical fire weather conditions that include strong winds and low relative humidity.

Firefighters were battling another day of extremely hot temperatures and strong winds on Saturday, the National Interagency Coordination Center said.

The fires have scorched states from Washington to New Mexico, with California among the hardest hit.

A mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire near Redding in northern California was killed in a car crash on Thursday, the eighth person to die in that conflagration.

The 190,873-acre (77,243-hectare) Carr Fire has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes.

About 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the Carr Fire, about 3,500 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 328,226 acres (132,828 hectares) as of Saturday and was the largest fire on record in California.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Borsuk)

Portugal’s deadliest fire still rages after 62 people killed

By Axel Bugge

PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal (Reuters) – More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling Portugal’s deadliest forest blaze on Monday after it killed at least 62 people over the weekend.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who on Sunday visited Pedrogao Grande, a mountainous area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, called it the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

Welcome light rain that started on Monday morning brought only modest relief to the shocked population and exhausted firefighters. Water planes, including French and Spanish ones, resumed their missions after stopping overnight.

“There is still a lot of forest that can burn and the rain does not make much difference,” said Rui Barreto, deputy chief firefighter at the makeshift emergency services headquarters in Pedrogao Grande as thunder rolled through the skies over the ash-covered town.

Firefighters said the weather conditions were still adverse in most areas where the flames were raging. Two army battalions were helping the emergency services.

Dozens of fire engines drove back and forth to fight the raging blaze in areas as far as 20km north of Pedrogao Grande. In a sign of help Portugal is receiving from its European neighbors, four Spanish fire engines were seen driving off from the headquarters.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway while many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had probably abandoned their vehicles in panic.

Firefightes work to put out a forest fire near the village of Fato, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante


Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, many media and residents questioned the efficiency of the operation and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year.

“So what failed this Saturday? Everything, as it has failed for decades,” read a headline in the daily Publico, which blamed a lack of coordination between services in charge of fire prevention and firefighting and poor forestry reserve planning.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which fanned the flames.

Red Cross and other relief personnel are seen outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017.

Red Cross and other relief personnel are seen outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

The regional prosecutor still ordered a criminal investigation into the causes, which he said would be shelved if the police version of events is confirmed. Many forest fires in Portugal are caused by arson or carelessness.

A public petition circulating on the Internet demanding an investigation into possible failures by the authorities has gathered about 270 signatures.

Local residents said they had been without the support of firefighters for hours as their homes burned. Many blamed depopulation of villages that left wooded areas untended.

(Story repeats fixing typo in second paragraph.)

(Writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by Ed Osmond)

Wildfires scorch U.S. Southeast, forecast adds to concerns

A heavy air tanker drops fire retardant over the Boteler wildfire near Hayesville, North Carolina, U.S.

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Dozens of wildfires burned in the U.S. Southeast on Tuesday, scorching tens of thousands of acres of forest and sending plumes of smoke across hundreds of miles of western North Carolina, northern and central Georgia and parts of eastern Tennessee.

Air quality alerts were issued across swaths of those states, with hazy smoke reaching as far south as Atlanta and north to Knoxville, Tennessee. People in the affected areas were urged to stay indoors or limit outside activity, officials said.

The fires could take weeks to extinguish, and a lack of rain in the forecast has added to concerns, said Wendy Burnett, spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

“The extended drought across the Southeast is the number one culprit,” Burnett said in an interview. “Rain is going to be what it takes to knock this down anytime soon. We’re doing every rain dance we know.”

North Carolina has been the hardest hit with more than 36,800 acres in western parts of the state burning in 15 major fires that are in various stages of being controlled, according to the governor’s office.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has ordered a state of emergency in 25 counties. The fires closed parts of the Appalachian Trail, along with parks, roads and stretches of highways, and forced the evacuation of about 1,000 residents, the governor’s office said in a statement.

In Georgia, more than 28,000 acres are burning, according to Burnett, forcing the evacuation of about 60 homes. The largest fire is on the Rough Ridge in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, she said, with about 19,500 acres burning.

That blaze was caused by a lightning strike, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett, while several others on federal land remain under investigation.

In Tennessee, nearly 16,000 acres have burned in 67 active fires, according to the state Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry.

Arson is suspected in at least one major fire in Tennessee, according to local news accounts. Others were caused by camp fires, farm equipment and a tossed cigarette, officials and state websites said.

“It’s been so dry, that one spark is all it takes to burn a forest,” said the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Burnett.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alan Crosby)

Deaths from U.S. lightning strikes this year at highest since 2010

Lightning strikes

By Chris Prentice

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A pair of fatalities from lightning strikes over the weekend lifted the U.S. death toll from such accidents this year to 29, the most since 2010, the National Weather Service said on Monday.

The latest lightning-related deaths occurred in Colorado and Michigan on Friday, the NWS said in a report. With four months left in the year, the 2016 toll has already surpassed last year’s 27.

Eight people have died from lightning this month, making it the deadliest August since 2007. In July, typically the month with the most fatalities, 12 people were killed by lightning.

“People are outside, enjoying beaches in the summer time,”

said John Jensenius, an NWS lightning safety specialist based in Gray, Maine.

“There’s not much variance in lightning activity,” he told Reuters, saying the rise was due more to behavior.

Fridays have been the deadliest day of the week this year, which Jensenius said was unusual. Typically, the highest number of incidents occur on Saturdays and Sundays, when Americans are outside barbecuing and enjoying other weekend activities.

This year, as is typical, Florida has posted the highest number of lightning deaths, with six. Louisiana and New York were next, with four and three fatalities, respectively.

Deaths from lightning have fallen sharply from the hundreds reported each year in the 1940s and 1950s, when there were more farmers riding tractors in open fields, Jensenius said.

The odds of being struck in a lifetime remain relatively low, about 1 in 12,000, NWS statistics showed. There is about one death for every 10 people hit by lightning.

But Jensenius advised caution, saying people should get inside during thunderstorms.

“If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck,” he said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Severe Weather in the Central United States Through Monday Night

By Kami Klein

Severe storms are expected throughout the afternoon and night, Monday into Tuesday, heading through the central states and eastward.  This same storm system produced severe thunderstorms with tornadoes and large hail in Colorado on Saturday and has been steadily advancing eastward according to the National Weather Service. and the National Weather Service are both reporting that the storms are expected to begin in the early afternoon along a dryline from eastern Kansas into Oklahoma.  The severe weather will journey eastward into Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and eastern Texas Monday afternoon. The National Weather Service warns that the main tornado risk appears to rise considerably once the system tracks into eastern Oklahoma in the late afternoon and into Arkansas during the evening.

Because of the substantial low level vertical shear over this area there is a good potential for strong tornadoes to develop.  Intense supercells will most likely be possible as well.

Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski advises, “The storms will bring the potential for frequent lightning strikes, flash flooding and a few isolated tornadoes, along with the ongoing risks of large hail and damaging wind gusts.”

Thunderstorms will continue to push eastward late Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Although there still will be capabilities of gusty winds and flooding downpours, the severe weather systems are expected to lower in intensity.

A few strong storms could redevelop during the day on Tuesday across part of the Ohio Valley as this system slowly drifts eastward.

Please stay tuned to local forecasts and take all precautions for your safety.  Motorists should plan on checking frequently on weather reports to stay clear of active and dangerous weather.