Freak California weather: Wildfires, lightning and drought wreak havoc in US state leaving one dead

Two wildfires in northern California destroyed 13 homes on the weekend, while one man died after being struck by lightning in the south of the state

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The Independent US

Wildfire has ravaged the drought-stricken region of northern California obliterating 13 homes and forcing the evacuation of hundreds on the same weekend that thunderstorms and freak lightning swept through the south of the state killing one.

As many as 1,900 fire personnel are battling a raging blaze in the Sierra Navada foothills amid a dangerous combination of high winds and temperatures above 38C.

The sand fire has burned through roughly 3,800 acres or six square miles since it started on Friday, but still threatens at least 515 properties, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) says.

It is now 50 per cent contained – with a fire-fighter sustaining minor injuries – as it continues to rip through the border of Amador and El Dorado counties, five miles north of the city of Plymouth.

Authorities have listed its cause as “vehicle into dry vegetation,” leading to a blaze that has also resulted in the destruction of 38 outbuildings.


Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff expressed concerns that the fire could grow into the new week, with officials evacuating at least 1,200 people.

“All of the vegetation in the area is struggling. It's burning very easily,” Ms Tolmachoff said.

“It causes the fire to be a lot hotter and to spread more easily.”

Eight helicopters and six air tankers, including a DC-10, have been drafted in to help quell the fire from the air.

Another fire to the west of Yosemite National Park, which began on Saturday, had quadrupled in size overnight to 2,100 acres, wiping out one home in a small community nearby.

Roughly 100 homes in Old El Portal and La Floresta have been evacuated into two shelters for animals and people, though Park Ranger Scott Gediman said no others were immediately threatened.

It comes as an unrelenting drought in the Golden State threatens lake tourism industries and causes crop devastation, pushing grocery bills ever higher.

California Governor Edmund G Brown Jr declared a state of emergency in January and urged residents to cut their water usage by 20 per cent.

As of last Tuesday, more than 80 per cent of California was considered to be in the 'extreme' category of drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

A motion has also been unanimously approved by the State Water Resources Board to implement restrictions on water use, effective 1 August.

Outdoor watering will be limited to two days per week and will limit water use for lawns, outdoor landscaping and car washing with a hose.

Almost 400 miles to the south of the arid landscape currently witnessing the raging wildfire, a male swimmer was killed after being struck by lightning.

The 20-year-old was believed to be one of roughly 14 people struck while on the popular Venice Beach.

In total nine people went to hospital, including another man who remains in a critical condition and a 15-year-old, after a rare summer thunderstorm travelled through southern California bringing with it lightning activity.

Witness Steve Christensen said his friend had gone in to help find the missing swimmer, who had been body-surfing, according to Fox News.

“He was face down on the bottom,” Mr Christensen said.

Another man described the moment that he was hit while playing volleyball on the beach.

“All of a sudden there was a big flash of light and a boom, and it felt like someone punched me in the back of my head,” Stuart Acher told KABC-TV.

“It went down my whole side of my right body, and my calves sort of locked up, and I fell over. And I looked up and everybody else was, you know, falling over.”

A 57-year-old man was also struck while golfing on Catalina Island and is in a stable condition.

Los Angeles fire spokeswoman Katherine Main said that they weren’t sure if all of the 14 were definitely struck, but said most were expected to recover after needing treatment for resuscitation and anxiety.