Wildland firefighters don’t admit to fearing much, but lightning is one terror that even the most experienced veterans say they hope to never encounter.
The worry is not being struck by a bolt, although it can be deadly. Instead, their primary concern is that lightning, slashing down in remote areas, can trigger unseen fires that smolder for days before they flare up, bursting into a dangerous and difficult-to-fight wildfire.
In August 2020, a remarkable barrage of lightning in Central and Northern California spawned more than 15,000 strikes over a few days, igniting more than 600 fires and burning more than 2 million acres. Five simultaneous lightning-sparked fires destroyed thousands of homes and buildings and claimed the lives of at least seven people.