July 21, 2013 in Nation/World

Storm could play wild card for California fire

Associated Press
 

IDYLLWILD, Calif. – Firefighters got little help from Mother Nature on Saturday as much-needed rainfall from expected thunderstorms didn’t materialize for a huge wildfire burning in the Southern California mountains near Palm Springs.

Fire officials were hopeful the storms, which can also bring wind, lightning and other volatile conditions, would douse some of the flames, but they said there was no significant rainfall.

Cooler temperatures overnight, however, helped firefighters make progress on the fire’s northern and southern flanks in the San Jacinto Mountains, as personnel worked to spare nearby desert communities from damage.

The blaze, which grew to roughly 42 square miles, was 49 percent contained, officials said.

Thunderstorms present a major threat to progress this weekend. Combined with hot air on the ground, the unstable air could create a strong updraft that draws smoke high into the atmosphere, fire spokesman Capt. Mike Lindbery said.

If the smoke column rises too high, moisture at the top could freeze and the ice’s weight could make the column collapse, creating a strong downdraft.

“We’re very concerned because this is the condition in the past that has definitely caused big firestorms and the death of citizens and firefighters,” Lindbery said.

Storm cells approached the area Friday afternoon but dissipated before reaching the fire zone. But the threat would remain through the weekend, and fire officials hoped it would be mild cloud cover and high humidity that could help in the firefight.

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