Thunderstorms start, stop fires

A severe thunderstorm both started and stopped a series of brush fires Wednesday afternoon as they made their way north through the Carson and Eagle valleys.

Lightning strikes set at least a half-dozen fires along the foothills of the Carson Range about 4 p.m.

One fire on C Hill rapidly expanded until a heavy rainstorm knocked it down. A section of Curry Street was closed temporarily to improve access to the C Hill fires.

A power transformer exploded after it was struck by lightning along the hills east of Carson City. Sierra Pacific Power Co. crews responded to the downed line.

As firefighters scrambled to deal with the fires, the strikes also caused brownouts around the city and knocked out traffic lights.

With his dog Cocoa, Michael Fischer, 56, watched firecrews mop up a black patch above a gas station that had doubled as a command center hours earlier.

"It was pretty crazy. Thunder was cracking right over head, I watched lightning strike all over the mountain," Fischer said. "It was pretty spectacular."

Mark Struble, information officer for the Sierra Front Incident Management Team, said crews already were preparing for the next rash of fires.

"There's always another one," Struble said.

Partly cloudy weather is predicted for today and Friday with a small chance of thunderstorms. High are expected to remain below 100 degrees throughout the weekend.

Struble said a 5,693-acre fire near Chilcoot, Calif., northwest of Reno was fully contained by Wednesday evening.

But the forecast for continued storms could complicate firefighters' efforts.

"A thunderstorm came and parked itself over the fire and sent it into four different directions," Struble said.

By Wednesday morning, the cost of fighting the Chilcoot fire had leaped higher than half a million dollars.

"It's projected at $688,000 as of this morning," Struble said. "The biggest expense was air assets. Aircraft time is the most expensive thing and it's an invaluable tool. You can hose down a lot more with aircraft than with fire engines."

Approximately 135 Sierra Front firefighters have already responded to other lightning fires and all reported fires have been contained to five acres or less.

They are fighting with 23 engines, two handcrews, two water tenders, one air attack, three helicopters, two single-engine air tankers with 800-gallon capacities and one heavy air tanker.

"It's a converted P-3A Orion anti-submarine aircraft that has a 3,000 gallon payload." Struble said.

"We also have DC-4's and DC-7's but we've pretty much retired the C-130's as far as heavy air tankers go," Struble said.

The Jumbo Grade Fire, east of East Lake Boulevard on the east side of Washoe Valley, initially reported contained at 10 acres, has now been recalculated to five acres.EE

Markleeville has contained two of the dozen small, mostly single-tree fires caused by lightning strikes.

Approximately 1,588 lightning strikes riddled an 11.5-million-acre area that includes Doyle to Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe to east Churchill County from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Of these strikes, 115 were positive, meaning they successfully struck from ground to cloud, although to the naked eye it appears that the strike is originating from cloud to ground.E

A total of 1,473 strikes were negative, meaning that the strikes occurred from cloud to cloud, according to Sierra Front statistics.EEEE


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