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Lightning Sparks Several New Desert Fires

July 21, 2006|From a Times Staff Writer

Lightning strikes touched off scattered fires Thursday, including a blaze that late in the day threatened 550 homes in southeastern portions of the Yucca Valley.

Most of the new fires were small and brought quickly under control, as firefighters continued to make headway against the larger blazes that have charred tens of thousands of acres over 12 days.

But the Covington fire, which began about 1:30 p.m. in Joshua Tree National Park, burned more than 225 acres by nightfall. Authorities called for voluntary evacuations along Santa Barbara Drive and Joshua Lane in Yucca Valley.

The windblown Covington fire zigzagged during the afternoon and evening before advancing toward the national park and parts of already fire-weary Yucca Valley.

The thunderstorms -- along with the gusts, cloud cover and humidity -- both hurt and helped firefighters battling the blazes.

On balance, though, Thursday's mix of weather conditions "was not welcomed," said Marc DeRosier, a captain with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

His agency, along with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service, was battling the Covington blaze.

DeRosier expressed concerns about new blazes in coming days, explaining that lightning strikes often spark smoldering fires that can grow. He said 300 firefighters, aided by two helicopters and six air tankers, were attacking the Covington fire.

Officials also continued to monitor the denuded hillsides above the Morongo Basin, concerned that rain could loosen debris and ash from the Sawtooth blaze.

The National Weather Service predicted a 20% to 30% chance of rain through the weekend, the result of a monsoonal pattern.

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