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The normally blue skies of Northern California are hazy these days, engulfed by smoke from the hundreds of fires that are still burning in the water-parched hills and valleys of the region. The 800 plus fires were started by an unprecedented 8,000 strikes of dry lightning that hit the region last weekend.
The lightning storms hit a wide geographical area, from Big Sur to the Wine country and all the way to the border of Oregon. As of Friday, five days after the fires started, over 193,470 acres have been burnt down, with most of the fires still active.
Over 11,000 firefighters, some from the neighboring states of Nevada, Montana and Oregan are currently working around the clock to extinguish the fires. According to officials, the steep terrain and weather conditions is making it difficult to contain the old fires and new ones are emerging at an alarming pace. Firefighters estimate that there were now at least 1,100 fires burning across the region. With the winds picking up and a weekend forecast for more thunderstorms, the current outlook looks grim.
The hardest hit area is Mendocino County, which was hit with 131 fires - only 3 of which have been contained. Things are not too promising near Sacramento either, where 25 fires have burnt through 60 acres and threatened 400 homes.
Firefighters are bracing for a really tough season. This one storm, has already outpaced all the fires fought in the entire year 2007 - and summer is just beginning! As the air quality worsens, people of Northern California especially children and the elderly, are being urged to stay indoors as much as they can.
Remarkably, however there has been no loss of life and so far only 5 residences, 1 commercial building and 4 outhouses have been burnt down. For up-to-date information on the status of the fires, go to:http://www.fire.ca.gov/index_incidents.php.
While it is unusual for so many fires to be started simultaneously, lightning storms are not at all uncommon. In fact it is estimated that over 17,400 fires are caused by lightning every year in the United States, largely in the summer months. Lighting is a normal discharge of atmospheric electricity, which is accompanied by a bright flash of light. Most of the time it moves from cloud to cloud - however sometimes it hits the earth - and when accompanied by no moisture - results in causing fires, especially in dry conditions. To learn more about lightning storms, check out http://www.ci.ramsey.mn.us/Documents/Fire/Lightning%20Fires.pdf
Sources: CNN.com, DailyMail.co.uk, USA Today