Hundreds of lightning strikes in Kern County kept emergency workers scrambling Wednesday, responding to wildfires, spot fires and even a medical callout to assist a man struck by lightning in Ridgecrest.
Kern County Fire Department personnel and US Forest Service crews were trying to keep up with the flurry of calls — and by midday Wednesday, county crews alone had responded to nearly 50 emergencies caused by lightning strikes across the county, said Fire Capt. Andrew Freeborn, a department spokesman.
In Ridgecrest, neighbors and emergency personnel were stunned to find a man who was struck down by lightning while walking with a child and his dog.
“It was definitely a first for me,” said Ridgecrest Police Sgt. Matt Rowland.
to Rowland, the man in his 30s was pushing a child in a stroller and walking his dog in the area of South Norma Street and West Bowman Road when the man was struck according by lightning at about 7:40 am
A good Samaritan, a man with medical training, was performing CPR on the victim when paramedics arrived, Rowland told The Californian. The man regained consciousness and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
“Both the child and the dog were OK,” Rowland said.
The largest fire of the day, by far, was the Thunder Fire. Likely caused by lightning strikes Wednesday morning, the newly named wildfire had grown by late afternoon to more than 700 acres southeast of Interstate 5 and Edmonston Pumping Plant Road.
As of 5 pm, visibility on the interstate was being reduced by the smoke, and containment was estimated at just 10 percent, the Kern County Fire Department reported.
“This is the kind of storm we don’t like,” Freeborn said of the mostly dry electrical storm that had county residents up early, staring out their windows and doors in wonder.
“We have lots of dry grass and trees,” Freeborn said. “We have a dry storm, with very little rain.”
Add lightning and you have a recipe for wildfire.
Just ask Kern River Valley resident Irene Featherstone.
“After a bright lightning strike, and immediate thunder, at around 7:15 am, my husband smelled smoke,” she said.
When she went to the back of their property, she saw smoke and flames in the tops of trees.
“Sure was,” Featherstone said. “When we first moved here last year in June, there was another fire just like today’s, only on the other side of Highway 155.
“What a rude awakening,” she said.
Fortunately a US Forest Service crew reacted quickly, and despite the wind, firefighters were able to control and extinguish the blaze.
Wednesday surely could have been much worse, but Freeborn said we may see the effects of Wednesday’s lightning, even after it’s gone.
“With lightning, you can get smoldering starts,” he said of lightning strikes that create a slow, smoldering burn.
“They can be in remote areas,” he said. “We don’t even know they’re there.”
Then an afternoon wind may pick up and fan the smoldering start into a full-blown wildfire.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.