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'Lightning siege' sparks wildfires across California wine country

Smoke rises from the LNU Lightning Complex wildfires as seen from an AlertWildfire camera looking east from Mount St. Helena, north of Calistoga, California, U.S. August 19, 2020. www.alertwildfire.org/Handout via REUTERS. reuters_tickers
This content was published on August 19, 2020 - 22:27

By Steven Lam

VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) - Lightning strikes sparked dozens of wildfires in Northern California's wine country on Wednesday, burning dozens of structures and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

California was hit by nearly 11,000 lightning strikes in 72 hours, sparking 367 fires, nearly two dozen of them major, as the state suffered a record heat wave, authorities said.

A group of fires covering over 46,000 acres (18,615 hectares) near the city of Vacaville raced through hills and mountains destroying 50 homes and other structures.

The city of 100,000, about 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Sacramento, was under a partial evacuation order after flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fire burned some homes, leaving dead livestock among the properties or wandering around, a Reuters photographer said.

"This is my cousin's home in Vacaville that just burned to the ground," tweeted podcast show host Robert Hanna with a picture of a house in flames.

The blazes follow devastating fires across Northern California in 2017 that killed 44, wiped out numerous wineries and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and other structures.

"In the last 72 hours we've experienced an historic lightning siege," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynnette Round.

So-called red flag high winds are fanning fires caused by rain-less dry-lightning storms, sending flames racing through scrub and woodland parched by record-breaking heat and low humidity.

Another group of fires called the SCU Lightning Complex about 20 miles (32 km) east of Palo Alto more than doubled in size overnight and is now burning over 85,000 acres. The CZU August Lightning Complex has grown to over 10,000 acres and forced evacuations around 13 miles (21 km) south of the city.

Governor Gavin Newsom has declared an emergency over the fires and said he requested 375 fire engines from out of state with Arizona, Nevada and Texas sending assistance.

(Reporting by Steven Lam, additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker)

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