Lightning sparks new wildfires across California

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)
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)

LOS ANGELES – A rare summer thunderstorm brought lightning that sparked several small blazes in Northern California on Sunday and stoked a huge wildfire that has forced hundreds of people from their homes north of Los Angeles.

More than 4,500 buildings remained threatened by the fire burning toward thick, dry brush in the Angeles National Forest. Firefighters already battling the blaze in steep, rugged terrain with scorching heat faced more hurdles when hundreds of lightning strikes and winds up to 15 mph (24 kph) pushed the flames uphill.

“We set up a containment line at the top of the hills so the fire doesn't spill over to the other side and cause it to spread, but it was obviously difficult given the erratic wind and some other conditions," said fire spokesman Jake Miller.

The Lake Fire was just 12% contained Sunday and has burned nearly 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) of brush and trees. Fire officials said 33 buildings had been destroyed, including at least a dozen homes.

Temperatures reached more than 110 degrees (43 Celsius) and a pyrocumulus created erratic fire behavior, fire spokesman Tom Ewald said.

Thunderstorm and excessive heat were also a concern for firefighters battling a blaze that blackened almost 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) in the foothills above the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa. The fire, believed to be started Thursday by a homeless man, is only 3% contained.

Many areas of the state saw triple-digit temperatures through the weekend and the combination of prolonged heat and smoke from wildfires sent ozone pollution to levels not seen in a decade in some areas. Air quality may reach unhealthy to very unhealthy levels in several regions of Southern California on Sunday and Monday afternoons, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said.

In Northern California, moisture from an offshore tropical storm fueled a thunderstorm that brought nonstop lightning strikes early Sunday, some of which ignited small fires and knocked out power across the San Francisco Bay Area.