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Surge in summer thunderstorms causes more lightning-sparked fires in northern Nevada

Taken by Jennifer Castro, Sun Valley

This summer, northern Nevadans have experienced one thunderstorm after the next, and with those storms comes quite a bit of lightning and dozens of lightning-caused fires.

Just last night, lightning sparked a fire that destroyed several structures behind Fawn Dotson's house in Mogul. She said, "All the sudden, I heard a bang and saw this big old light and just like an explosion."

It's the most recent incident in a long list of dozens of lightning-caused fires across Nevada this year.

"There's been enough lightning and the fuels are very dry." Tim Brown is the director of the Western Regional Climate Center. He said the record-breaking winter in the region is now playing a big part in how many fires we've seen this summer.

"You start by having wet conditions that create the fuels and then it dries out... This is why we're seeing such an extensive fire season."

But why have there been so many lightning-sparked fires in particular in northern Nevada this year?

Brown said, "if we compare this summer to last summer, we definitely are seeing more thunderstorms and more lightning and that's simply because the large-scale weather pattern is set up in a way that's allowing this monsoon moisture to come on up into northern Nevada."

He said monsoonal moisture from the southwest is making its way through the region, and bringing with it warm and wet conditions conducive to creating thunderstorms.

On Monday alone, the National Weather Service said there were 2,519 lightning strikes across Nevada and 6,735 in California.

"As we're standing here, my eyes are kind of standing because we've got clouds coming in." Sandy McGill is all too familiar with the lightning strikes. For the past three years, she's volunteered as a lightning spotter with the Red Rock Community Emergency Response Team.

McGill said, "This year we've been actively deployed 11 times in, say the last 3 months or so." When a thunder storm rolls in. she and other lightning spotters keep their eyes on the horizon, looking for smoke.

When they spot a possible fire, they immediately report it to local firefighters. "Let them know where the fire is, how far it is from our house, how big it is, white smoke, black smoke, which way the wind is blowing, so they have trained us to report the pertinent data."

McGill said she has noticed more lightning this summer. "It just seems like the storms are a little heavier, a little more active than they have been in the years past."

If you're interested in becoming a CERT volunteer, you can attend a training next month. For more information, CLICK HERE.

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