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3,000-Acre SoCal Fire Sparked By Rare 'Lightning Sleeper'

The Buck Fire near Temecula is being blamed on a phenomenon known as a “lightning sleeper.”

The lightning strike that sparked Tuesday’s was a quiet sleeper that waited a few days before unleashing its fury, a Cal Fire official said today.

Cal Fire spokesman Glenn Barley said a lightning strike earlier this week ignited the 3,000-acre Buck Fire that is currently burning in Southwest Riverside County, but it wasn't until about 1 p.m. Tuesday when heat, moisture and wind created the perfect storm for flames to unfurl.

It's not all that unusual for a lightning strike to smolder for a few days during damp weather, only to ignite when conditions grow warmer and dryer, Barley explained, noting that the phenomenon is known as a “lightning sleeper.”

But in Southern California, there are not a lot of lightning storms. 

Barley could not say for certain when the lightning strike that triggered Tuesday’s blaze actually took place, but he acknowledged that strikes this past weekend are likely culprits.

Oppressive heat and humidity, thunder and lightning storms, and even a few “microbursts" -- more commonly called funnel clouds or small tornados by laypeople -- slammed the region.

Meanwhile, Mother Nature’s rage continues. There are currently no estimates on when firefighters might gain the upper hand on the Buck Fire, which is currently at 15 percent containment. The blaze broke out in a remote area of Aguanga, and has destroyed four structures and injured five people, including three firefighters.

for the latest news on the fire, which provides the most updated stats on containment and acres burned.

Jim Purpura - Redhawk Weather August 16, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Interesting article, Tony. A bit of a correction on the weather portion. Tornadoes and funnels are different than downbursts or "microbursts". Microbursts are downdraft winds from a thunderstorm, and accounted for almost all of the wind damage reported last weekend. I will be writing an article on microbursts in the next day or two in WeatherCurrents. Hopefully that will better explain. Jim Purpura Meteorologist WeatherCurrents.com
Helen August 16, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Never heard of a Lightning Sleeper so I had to look it up. Nothing wrong with learning something new everyday. :) "A sleeper is a fire that may remain hidden underground for days or a week or even longer, typically smoldering in dried roots, waiting for above-ground conditions to dry out enough for it to flare up, igniting vegetation. One of the best clues that a sleeper may be smoldering underfoot is the presence on the ground of splintered pieces of tree or the shattered remains of a tree trunk. A lightning strike superheats sap and water within a tree, forcing rapid expansion that literally blows a tree up from the inside out. In some cases, a tree may not heat up enough to explode, but it will typically show a spiral pattern of cracks down the tree trunk. Near such trees, odds are high there may be a sleeper fire underground. Of course, there may be other, more obvious signs of fire, including the smell of smoke or clouds that are typically cumulus or cumulo-nimbus; those with round bottoms are generated by fire. You can be certain of fire if the cloud has a boiling appearance or is tinted with shades of orange or brown; the latter are reflections of flames beneath and smoke carried upward." http://www.mountaineersbooks.org/Assets/ClientPages/zz_LightningStrikes.aspx#SleeperFire
what do you think? August 16, 2012 at 01:35 PM
"There are currently no estimates on when firefighters might gain the upper hand on the Buck Fire, which is currently at 15 percent containment." That's what is in the article, so why does the headline read differently? Who determined Saturday for full containment?
Helen August 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
It's on the link with the updates from Cal Fire (orange bar above) and not in this particular article. Recent updates by Cal Fire is that the fire is 40% contained and they expect to have 100% containment by Saturday.
Constant Comment August 16, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Betcha a 'Buck' they have it contained by friday.....}~)

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