Some fires are started by people, either by being careless with campfires or tossing cigarette butts out a window.
But others have something to do with the weather. Especially in the desert, many lightning-sparked fires may not come with rain posing an additional hazard.
“Lightning-sparked fires leave distinctive patterns on trees,” says Special Agent Ron Huxman with the US Forest Service. “They tend to blow trees apart. They leave a lightning scar down a tree. They leave real, real obvious evidence that it occurred.”
Since lightning is a natural form of static electricity, the extremely high voltage in a lightning bolt helps produce great heat to spark fires on the ground.
A hazardous setup for lightning occurs during the monsoon season of the mid-to-late summer.
Moisture is brought in at high levels of the atmosphere where it produces ice crystals which through friction produce lightning.
But because where these storms form, rain may not reach the ground and the storm produces “dry lightning.”
Also the “virga” factor of rain evaporating will cause the air to cool and fall bringing a dry wind after the lightning strike.
“It’s the equivalent of somebody throwing a match into kindling, and then blowing on it to get the thing fired up,” says Huxman.
Fire investigators say locations like the lush forestlands in the mountains are ideal for lightning fires to not only start but spread.
Also, the high elevation makes it hard for firefighters to get to the fire.
According to government statistics, lightning in the Southland does not spark nearly as many fires as those credited to humans.
It also does not usually burn close to the same kind of acreage.
Although in recent years, 2001 and 2005 lightning did char more area than humans with over 135,000 acres lost in 2001 and nearly 80,000 in 2005.
While there are some things we can do to curb lightning fires such as clearing debris and early detection after a strike, lightning has been here since the beginning and shows no signs of leaving.