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Fire crews brace for lightning-sparked fires

Associated Press Modified: August 5, 2012 at 1:00 am •  Published: August 5, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Fire officials braced on Saturday for the possibility of lightning-sparked fires across a wide area of Northern California as a number of thunderstorms move into the region.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection increased staffing and was on high alert because of the increased fire danger from so-called dry thunderstorms, agency spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Fire officials believed lightning sparked two small fires totaling 650 acres, or a square mile, in the Piute Mountains of the Sequoia National Forest.

Thunderstorms can be a mixed blessing for firefighters because though the precipitation they bring can help douse wildfires, the erratic winds with the storms can also fan the flames.

"The concern always is the storms will bring downdraft winds that push the fire in different directions," Berlant said.

Most of the storms in the forecast for the weekend were expected to pack powerful winds, but drop even less rain than a series of thunderstorms that sparked nearly 75 fires last month, Berlant said.

The National Weather Service issued a "red flag" warning for Saturday and into Sunday evening for a vast section of Northern California, stretching along the Sierra Nevada mountains and west into parts of Mendocino and Lake counties

Because the thunderstorms moving into the area have a "high cloud" base, most of the precipitation produced is expected to evaporate before hitting the ground, said weather service meteorologist Tom Dang.

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