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Lightning Strikes Pose Big Wildfire Threat

The Sierra Nevada got off easy with small fire seasons the past two years primarily due to fewer than usual lightning strikes, but forecasters say that luck is likely to run out this summer. Rhett Milne is the head of fire weather forecasting for the National Weather Service in Reno. He says Nevada had most of the ingredients necessary for big fires last year, including record heat and high fuel levels. The only thing missing was lightning strikes.

Milne says this year´s lightning pace is ahead of last year´s with some 20,000 strikes recorded in Nevada over the past month.

More lightning is expected this summer because of a shift in weather patterns from the warmer El Nino phenomenon to La Nina, which is associated with cooling that can bring Nevada wetter low pressure systems from the Pacific. With few lightning storms last year, only about 84,000 acres burned in Nevada, compared with the previous year´s 610,000 acres.

Severe lightning and dangerous fuel conditions combined to produce Nevada´s record fire season in 1999, when more than one-and-one-half million acres burned.