(CBS NEWS) – California fire officials said Saturday that there have been nearly 12,000 lightning strikes in the state since August 15, with over 100 occurring on Friday. Thousands of firefighters are fighting two of the three largest outbreaks of wildfires in history, which were started by the dry lightning strikes.
A new thunderstorm system is expected to bring more dry lightning strikes and gusty winds early Sunday and will last several days, which could create more fires, Cal Fire said.
At least five people have died already and tens of thousands have been evacuated after hundreds of wildfires broke out in Northern California. On Friday night, fast-moving flames trapped two firefighters, who had to be airlifted to safety.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said Saturday that the White House had approved a major disaster declaration for the state.
The pulse of atmospheric energy last week from Tropical Storm Fausto caused havoc, and the National Weather Service warned Saturday that “elevated moisture and instability from former Hurricane Genevieve” bring a threat of elevated thunderstorms though the weekend and early next week.
These conditions became catastrophic as a result of the historic heat and significant drought, made worse by climate change.
Forecasters issued a Red Flag Fire warning that will go into effect 5 a.m. Sunday and run until 5 p.m. Monday and cover the entire area where the current wildfires are raging from Lake Berryessa to Big Sur, CBS San Francisco reported.
Marin County officials announced Saturday they were shutting down public access to the Marin Municipal Water District wildlands and Mount Tamalpais State Park during the Red Flag conditions.
“Lightning will likely spark new fires across the region, including remote areas,” the Marin County Fire Chiefs Association said in a news release. “Wildfires in remote regions may not become apparent until warmer and drier conditions allow them to grow. Erratic gusty outflow winds may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior.”
Jeff Berardelli contributed reporting.