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Red flag warnings have firefighters on high alert thanks to dry Sierra lightning

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POSTED August 5, 2012 10:20 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Forecasters predicted another day of thunderstorms producing lightning but dropping little rain, which put firefighters in California on high alert again Sunday as crews lost ground on an expanding wildfire in the Plumas National Forest.

The National Weather Service maintained a “red flag” warning into Sunday evening for a vast section of Northern California that stretches along the Sierra Nevada mountains, west into Lake and Mendocino counties, and north to the Oregon border.

More than 2,000 lightning strikes were reported across parts of Northern California from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning, said weather service meteorologist Tom Dang.

Ten new fires were sparked by the lightning, though all of them were contained at only a few acres, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forest Protection.

“We did see quite a bit of lightning over a good portion of the Sierras and also the coastal range,” Berlant said.

“Today (Sunday) we’ll continue to monitor, with aircraft patrolling for any smoke,” he said.

Meanwhile, with strong winds from thunderstorms blowing burning embers, a wildfire in the Plumas National Forest jumped fire lines late Saturday and early Sunday, fire officials said.

The Chips Fire grew to about 9,200 acres, or more than 14 square miles, said forest spokeswoman Michele Jimenez-Holtz.

With the growth of the blaze, the wildfire was considered completely uncontained, and fire crews were worried about thunderstorms kicking up winds and helping to spread the fire again Sunday.

“We’re going to have a shift in wind directions, that could be good or not so good,” Jimenez-Holtz said.

The residents of 25 homes in the tiny community of Belden and of a nearby trailer park were under a precautionary evacuation.

About 100 miles to the northwest, crews contained a wildfire along Interstate 5 in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest that consumed 980 acres, or about 1.5 square miles.

Officials said drivers on I-5, about 20 miles north of Redding, will continue to see smoke from isolated pockets of burning brush.

The blaze began in the freeway median Wednesday afternoon and is believed to have been sparked by human activity.

Far to the south, a series of fires officials said were sparked by lightning consumed about 650 acres, or a little more than a square mile, outside of the Kern County community of Lake Isabella.

Fire crews had zero containment on the fires, but no homes were threatened, said fire spokesman Cody Norris.

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