Wednesday, July 2, 2008

An “unprecedented” outbreak of lightning strikes ignited more than 1400 wildfires accross Northern California.

An “unprecedented” outbreak of lightning strikes ignited more than 800 wildfires in a single day across Northern California on Saturday.

A record-dry spring followed by early summer heat and electrical storms were responsible for one of the worst days for wildfires in the state’s history.

A pall of thick smoke obscured the sky and reduced visibility to less than 2 miles in San Francisco and other cities of Northern California.

Veteran Bay Area meteorologist Mike Pechner described the huge clouds of smoke as the worst in living memory.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters he found it "quite shocking" how quickly the number of fires has risen in just one day.

The governor declared a state of emergency and requested firefighting assistance from neighboring states. But even with the help from out of state, the combined crews were unable to handle all of the blazes burning across a vast area, many of which were left to burn out of control.

Besides darkening the skies across many parts of California, smoke from the blazes blew eastward, casting a pall over neighboring Nevada and the downwind state of Utah. The smoke also created a health hazard for many cities, where officials warned residents to remain indoors as much as possible.

The image to the upper right was captured at middday on Monday by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor orbiting aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

It clearly shows large wildfires burning from near the Oregon border, southward to around Yosemite National Park and the Big Sur coastline. Other fires can be seen burning in the Wine Country to the north of San Francisco.

The expansive white fog bank along the coast is typical during Northern California’s summers, and was not related to the fires.