Wild weather rouses Ridgecrest residents

By DAVID JOHNSON News Review Correspondent

Wild weather rouses Ridgecrest residentsMany area residents were awakened Monday morning to the sound of thunder, but several people reported that what they believed they were hearing was a jet from China Lake. Before long they realized that wasn’t the case.

The early morning storm was the latest in a series of storms that have made for a much longer and more destructive season than usual of thunderstorms. While earlier storms disrupted power and uprooted trees, Monday’s storm was memorable for its dazzling display of lightning.

A palm tree was struck by lightning in the 800 block of East Walker Lane about 7:35 a.m., setting the tree ablaze. Ridgecrest police officers were the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene and began fighting the fire with garden hoses. RPD Officers Keys and Bockhahn assisted there, keeping flames from spreading to another nearby palm tree and adjacent homes. (Video is available for viewing online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzXaw6IGUEc).

Peggy Breeden also reported that a palm tree next to her house was struck by lightning at 4:18 a.m. She said she could smell the smoke but didn’t immediately notice anything. Then a neighbor yelled to Breeden that her house was on fire. As it turned out, only the palm tree was in flames. But it was close enough to cause concern. “Burning debris from the tree was landing on my roof,” said Breeden. She attacked the fire with a garden hose until the fire deparment arrived. Breeden expressed her gratitude saying, “Thank you to my neighbor and the Kern County Fire Department. You are heroes to me!”

Corey Wilford, public information officer for the Kern County Fire Department, said the early- morning storm generated a lot of calls in the Ridgecrest area.

Wilford said that power lines were downed in three locations and that there were three palm tree fires, five vacant-lot fires and one call because of lighting that hit a gas main. Fire Station 77 on West Dolphin Avenue was also hit. “It killed their TV and the computer system, and the quick-call system which is how they get their calls. We have backups so it won’t affect responses.”

Access between Lake Isabella and Bakersfield on Highway 178 was closed by rock slides and debris flows Monday evening. At one point several motorists were trapped between two separate slides. There is no estimate when the road will reopen.

KCFD Station 75 in Randsburg responded to a vehicle washed off Garlock Road just west of Highway 395. There were no injuries there, and as of press time Garlock Road had just been reopened.

Numerous dry lightning strikes also sparked several fires in the southern Sierra Nevada, but rainfall kept many of them from spreading and allowed fire crews the critical time needed to extinguish the blazes.

One fire west of Shirley Peak near Alta Sierra was still burning in heavy vegetation near the Shirley Meadows Ski Area. The latest estimation of acreage consumed there stands at just over 400. No structures have been lost so far; however, as many as 400 are threatened. A warning/voluntary evacuation was put into place Monday for residents in the Shirley Meadows area, but at present evacuations are not mandatory.

Substantial rainfall late Monday afternoon helped firefighters slow fire progression, and a structure protection group was in place for Shirley Meadows, the ski resort and Slick Rock communities.

From 11 a.m. Sunday until 8 a.m. Monday the Hanford National Weather Service office recorded 1,600 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes over the Kern county mountains and deserts. Adding in the cloud-to-cloud strikes, there were over 4,000.

As many as 4,000 customers were without power in Ridgecrest according to Southern California Edison, all of which have been restored.

The North American monsoon which is responsible for the summertime thunderstorms, begins in late June or early July, lasting into September. It is also referred to as the Desert monsoon since a large part of the affected area are the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

Story First Published: 2013-08-21