Environment & Science

Dry conditions, lightning spark fires across California

The Eiler Fire had burned 23,000 acres Sunday, with no containment, forcing evacuation for nearby communities.
The Eiler Fire had burned 23,000 acres Sunday, with no containment, forcing evacuation for nearby communities.
Courtesy Lassen National Forest

Hot temperatures, dry conditions and sporadic lightning have made for incendiary conditions throughout California. Fires in Northern California have surged over the weekend, forcing evacuations in several areas. 

Crews were able to quickly contain and douse twin fires in the San Bernardino National Forest shortly after they were ignited by lightning strikes. 

The fires broke out during a thunderstorm Saturday evening around 7 p.m. and were put out by Sunday morning. A U.S. National Forest spokesperson said neither fire grew much more than 50 feet in any direction.  

"We've had a few lightning starts in the last few weeks in the San Bernardino National Forest," spokesperson Carol Underhill said. "These two were detected by our volunteer fire lookout... They were called in and we got crews up there. a helicopter up there and we try to get them as soon as possible." 

Northern California has not been so lucky. 

A lightning-ignited fire up in Shasta County nearly quadrupled in size over the weekend —destroying eight homes — and has prompted evacuations for several nearby communities, as well as an evacuation advisory for the town of Burney, California, where residents have been told to prepare to flee.

A small hospital in the town has already been evacuated. The Associated Press reports: 

Officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital say they are evacuating their 49-bed annex in Burney and moving patients to a hospital in Redding, in case the flames get closer. The hospital's website says the annex serves patients with dementia and other conditions requiring skilled nursing services.

Spokesman Linda Tiffin said the fire is burning less than five miles from the town of Burney and has burned a total of 28 structures, including 8 homes.

"We've had evacuations along Highway 89 from Doty Road to Wilcox Road and also Johnson Park, Cassel and Big Eddie Estates," Tiffin said.

Follow developments on the Eiler Fire: 

Firetracker: Eiler Fire in Shasta County

At least 9 other fires were burning in the Six Rivers, Modoc and Lassen National Forest areas north of Sacramento, including the 12,850-acre Day Fire and fast-moving Coffee and Lodge Lightning Complex fires — all are thought to have been sparked by lightning strikes. 

Closer to home, fire officials working to contain the French Fire called for the public's help in their investigation into what started the blaze. Investigators say they've determined to have been an abandoned campfire: 

Investigators believe a long log was left in the campfire, extending into nearby pine needles. As the log burned and reached the pine needles, the fire extended into the forest starting the French Fire.

For just this reason, a Forest Order has been in place since June 25, 2014 restricting campfires in the Sierra National Forest, to help prevent just such an incident given the extreme drought conditions existing on the Forest. Campfires were not permitted unless they were in a designated campground during the time of the incident. “It is an unfortunate and unnecessary loss for all of us, that due to the irresponsible actions of a few, a portion of a national treasure has been lost, not to mention putting lives and homes at risk” said Dean Gould, Forest Supervisor, Sierra National Forest. 

Officials are asking for the public's help in identifying campers who may have been in the area on Sunday July 27. Anyone with information is asked to call 559-877-2605. 

Firetracker: French Fire in Madera County

See more fire updates on KPCC's Firetracker.