Lightning sparks dozens of fires

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Parts of Alaska were pounded with lightning strikes that set off dozens of new wildfires.

Lightning detectors throughout the state recorded more than 7,400 strikes in the 24 hours that ended at 8 a.m. Friday, said Sharon Alden, a federal meteorologist.

The strikes stretched from the Bethel region across Fairbanks and on to Fort Yukon. Heavy lightning also occurred in the western Brooks Range.

Lightning causes about 80 percent of Alaska's wildfires, according to fire officials. A total of 65 new fires broke out in parts of the Interior over the week. Many were small, but several posed a threat.

Lightning is a discharge of electromagnetic energy that gathers before and during certain storms.

Nine antenna-like instruments in Alaska and three in Canada can detect that discharge, Alden said. A precise location can be determined if two or more record the same bolt of lightning.

The technology was updated two years ago, so it's difficult to say for sure whether Thursday's strikes were unusually heavy or if the detection system is doing a better job, Alden said.

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