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Lightning Sparks Fire Near Ventura; 20 Acres Burned

Weather: About 175 workers spend several hours fighting blaze. Meanwhile, a sea wall at Point Mugu threatened by high surf escapes further damage.

July 28, 1996|SCOTT STEEPLETON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A thunder and lightning storm early Saturday touched off a grass fire north of Ventura that took hours to extinguish, firefighters said.

The early-morning brush fire burned about 20 acres in the Weldon Canyon area near Canada Larga Road. County fire authorities said the 4:36 a.m. fire was caused by a lightning strike from the thunderstorm, which began about 10:15 p.m. Friday.

It took nine hand crews, two bulldozers and two helicopters--with about 175 personnel total--to put out the blaze, which burned until about 1:14 p.m., county fire spokeswoman Rhonda Kauer said. No one was injured, and no structures were damaged.

Also on Saturday, officials at Point Mugu were paying close attention to a sea wall that had been damaged by high surf caused by a storm in the southern and central Pacific. Saturday was to be the highest-tide day of the year, a naval base spokesman said, but calm seas and a drainage ditch that diverted standing water from a base parking lot to Mugu Lagoon seemed to prevent any further damage.

The lightning came as little surprise to Rob Kaczmarek, a meteorologist for Weather Data, a private forecasting firm in Wichita, Kan.

"If there's a chance for lightning to happen in Ventura County, it would happen in the summer," Kaczmarek said.

Friday night's thunderstorm is the second to hit Ventura County in the last month, "but it doesn't happen often," Kaczmarek said.

A sign that thunderstorms are possible is the presence of large cumulus clouds. To produce rain, a cloud needs to be about 4,000 feet deep, Kaczmarek said. In California, lightning occurs when the cloud is about 25,000 to 30,000 feet deep.

The first of the recent thunderstorms occurred about three weeks ago and caused brush fires. While not every storm produces lightning strikes, Kaczmarek said, they are common, and a storm like the one that hit Friday night produces 20 to 30 lighting strikes.

"The majority of lightning does not hit the ground," Kaczmarek said. "Quite a lot just shoots around in the air, from one cloud to another."

Lightning occurs because of the movement of the electric charges in the clouds.

On a clear day, a cloud is full of negatively and positively charged particles all dancing close to one another, Kaczmarek said, "but when a thunderstorm grows, it tends to split up the charges."

The positive charges are found near the top of the cloud, while the negative charges are relegated to the bottom. Opposites attract, and when they do, lightning occurs.

A low-pressure system along the coast allowed thunderstorms, usually confined to the desert and the San Gabriel Mountains, to drift to the west, Kaczmarek said.

Temperatures in the county have been typical for this time of year--in the 70s along the coast and about 20 degrees hotter inland--but the humidity has been higher than normal. When that happens, everyone feels hotter, Kaczmarek said.

"The higher the humidity, the warmer it feels on the body, and because of the increased moisture, it feels sticky," he said.

Without the ocean breezes blowing across the skin, Kaczmarek said, the moisture sticks and adds to the discomfort.

Weather Data is forecasting light winds to pick up over the next several days. The marine layer, which hasn't been quite as deep as it would typically be at this time, will build back up early next week.

The combination should produce weather that feels a bit more seasonable.

FOR PIX SLUGGED fire1

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