Lightning crackles across Bay Area skies

Thunderstorms with little rain — along with bone dry conditions in the foothills that ring the Bay Area —  have firefighters preparing for what could be a busy couple of days.

Fire officials say there were more than 25,000 strikes from so-called “dry lightning” storms across California late Sunday and into Monday evening. Now, officials are preparing for the possibility that lightning could spark fires in the Bay Area.

A dangerous combination of gusty and erratic winds that usually accompany lightning storms — along with hillsides parched by months of sunny skies — has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a “Red Flag Warning” for most of the Bay Area.

Forecasters say thunderstorms may generate plenty of dry lightning — and even some hail — but little, if any, rain. Because there is so much dried out brush officials say a lightning strike could spark a fire, even if it is raining at the time.

In issuing its warning, the NWS said:

“Dry fuels along with the potential for abundant lightning may result in new fire starts even with storms that are wet.”

With the warning in effect for the Bay Area until 3 a.m. Wednesday — and with other warnings in place across the state — fire officials have called in extra help to fight any new fires.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said:

  “In preparation for the heightened fire potential due to the lightning, CAL FIRE  increased its staffing over the weekend bringing on additional personnel and staffing extra resources. The California National Guard is also assisting fire crews with the aid of several helicopters and two C-130 aircraft used as air tankers.”

In the East Bay, the threat of lightning will combine with daytime highs in the 90s, requiring fire crews to be especially diligent.

Firefighters with the Moraga-Orinda Fire District quickly put out an electrical fire that started in a wooded area Monday afternoon, while Contra Costa County firefighters were quick to respond to a brush fire on Bethel Island Sunday night.

Contra Costa Fire Protection District Capt. Robert Marshall told The Contra Costa Times:

“We’ll be watching this extra carefully, because of the dry thunderstorms.  The conditions are dry and hazardous, and they become more so when because Mother Nature is the one who can provide the spark.”