BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The sound of thunder becomes an audible warning for the lightning to follow. Officials urged residents to stay indoors Wednesday throughout the Central Valley after one Kern resident was struck by lightning.
One of the larger fires started by lightning, dubbed the Thunder Fire, is burning southeast of the base of the Grapevine since 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. The Kern County Fire Department says currently over 100 personnel are on scene, and the department has had to call in firefighters not on duty to respond to all those calls.
The sound of thunder became Kern County’s alarm clock Wednesday morning. Tehachapi resident Michelle Hensler got a rude awakening at 1 a.m. in the morning.
“I was able to fall back asleep surprisingly, but it got real loud at about 3, 3:30, and I decided, ‘you know, I’m going to get up and check this out.' So I went out on my porch, and it was the most amazing light show I’ve ever seen.”
But some other Kern County residents were not so lucky. The Ridgecrest Police Department confirmed that lightning struck a 30-year-old man while walking his dog and pushing his child in his stroller. Officials confirm that man was taken to a local hospital but would not provide an update on his condition.
“It’s beautiful to see. It’s fun to feel the home shake and hear the thunder rolling, but we’d like to continually remind people: when thunder roars, stay indoors,” said Andrew Freeborn with the Kern County Fire Department.
Lightning posed another life-threatening risk, starting dozens of vegetation fires across the county. Kern County Fire Department’s Andrew Freeborn says the greatest fire risk exists in Eastern Kern County and desert and mountain communities near Tehachapi and down toward the Grapevine and Lebec.
Felix Castro with the National Weather Service Hanford says storms like these have not happened in June in four years.
“We are happy for the rainfall but the thunderstorms produce lightning and in a very dry environment like us in the valley, that will produce fire. Those thunderstorms are sometimes strong enough to produce gusty winds. So not only does it produce the fire, but also the winds are going to make those fires spread really quickly.”
Firefighters have been responding to various emergency calls around the county all day.
"Our fire crews have been doing tremendous work extinguishing while they're still small, or on to the next one. We've had a large amount of our firefighters off duty, that have answered those phone calls early morning, while they're home with their families, to come back to work, to make sure we continue to have those boots on the ground," said Freeborn.
They can pinpoint potential starts directly to where the storm system passes throughout Kern County through the doppler radar. But once the storm passes the fire danger has not. Freeborn says fire crews utilize cameras on mountain tops, and helicopters not actively on a fire to conduct aerial reconnaissance in an effort to find other potential lightning fires as temperatures rise.
Says Freeborn, “We may still be trying to identify all the fires that have started from that storm. It may be minutes, it may be hours after that storm passes. Sometimes it’s days after the fact. You may have a tree that is just smoldering. It’s very small and smoldering. It just needs that right combination of heat and wind on, and now you’ve got a wildfire that’s in a remote area that’s we’re trying to access.”