Monday, August 16, 2021

Fire Updates: Air Quality Improved but Winds Expected to Spur Fire Growth

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 12:10 PM

click to enlarge A Sikorsky helicopter refills its tank at a dip point whole working the McFarland Fire. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A Sikorsky helicopter refills its tank at a dip point whole working the McFarland Fire.
A handful of fires burning east of Humboldt spread aggressively over the weekend, pushed by winds and dry fuel loads, and continue to bring air quality and travel impacts as far west as the coast, with State Route 299 still closed in Trinity County and no timetable for reopening. Air quality has improved markedly for the time being, though, though hot, dry conditions and wind gusts are expected to continue to complicate fire suppression efforts.

Here's a brief look at each and what you need to know.

The Fires

The Monument Fire, 97,287 acre
s, 10 percent contained
Located a half mile west of Big Bar along State Route 299 east of Willow Creek, the Monument Fire was sparked by lightning July 30 and grew more than 20,000 acres over the weekend to 97,287 acres with 10 percent containment. Evacuation orders remain in effect for Junction City, Red Hill, Canyon Creek, Coopers Bar, Big Bar, Del Loma, Big Flat, Helena, Cedar Flat and Burnt Ranch. For information on evacuation sites and animal shelters visit the Trinity County Sheriff's Office Facebook page here. "Last night, the Monument Fire was extremely active on all flanks, predominantly to the southeast," a morning update states. "The fire exhibited long, uphill runs and group torching as it advanced toward Sky Ranch Road in Junction City, prompting the evacuation order issued by the Trinity County Sheriff. ... Yesterday, the fire also made an uphill run toward the Ironside Lookout on the northwest portion east of the Trinity River. Embers ignited receptive fuels, destroying the lookout and communication infrastructure for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and a repeater site for the incident." Gusty afternoon and evening winds of up to 25 mph are expected along the ridge lines and up the Trinity River Canyon. For more information, read about incident commanders' briefing on Wednesday with Congressmember Jared Huffman here, check the incident website here and a map of the fire's footprint here.

The McFarland Fire, 51,909 acres, 68 percent contained
Sparked by lightning July 29 on McFarland Ridge south of State Route 36, the fire is burning in timberlands with fuels with historically low moisture levels in an area that hasn't burned in more than 50 years. The fire grow by more than 10,000 acres over the weekend, though crews managed to increase containment to 68 percent. "Yesterday, gusty and dry west to northwest winds surfaced over the fire area and increased fire activity," the morning updates states. "Extreme fire behavior pushed the fire to the east into Beegum Peak and over Tedoc Mountain. ... The northwest section of the fire area remained relatively calm after mop-up efforts." An evacuation order has been issued from 1 mile north of State Route 36 from Platina to Vestal Road, for all homes south of State Route 36, including all of Tedoc Road, east to and including all of Vestal Road, north of Pettyjohn Road. "Today's weather conditions bring another critical fire day," the update states. "Winds will be N/NW all day and evening with gusts of 30-40 mph." Find the latest information here.

River Complex 2021, 44,117 acres, 10 percent contained
Located in the Salmon/Scott River Ranger District of the Klamath National Forest, the complex consists of multiple lightning fires sparked in dry timber and brush on July 30. The full complex, which stretches more than 44,000 acres, includes 22 fires, six of which have been fully contained. Another fire was added to the complex on Aug. 7. Over the weekend, the complex grew by nearly 8,000 acres, spreading to 44,117 acres with 10 percent containment. "With a weak cold front predicted, better ventilation may occur, with risk of increased fire behavior over the fire area," a morning update states. Evacuation orders are in effect for Cecilville, Summerville, Petersburg and Coffee Creek Road past Sugar Pine Trailhead in Trinity County. A warnings remains in place for Sawyers Bar. The estimated date of containment is Oct. 1. Find more information here.

The McCash Fire:
2,599 acres, 1 percent containment
Sparked by lightning on July 31, the McCash Fire is burning near Somes Bar in the Marble Mountain Wilderness in Siskiyou County in an area of timber growth with an understory of tall grass and brush. It threatens significant cultural sites for the Karuk Tribe, as well as some structures on private lands. This morning's update notes that while smoke filled the canyons and communities along State Route 96 yesterday, skies over the fire were fairly clear, allowing reconnaissance flights. Additional resources are being requested to support ongoing suppression efforts. The current estimated containment date is Sept. 29. Find more information here

Travel

State Route 299:  Closed from 1.7 miles east of Hawkins Bar to 2.1 miles east of Junction City. There is currently no estimated time for when the roadway will be reopened and motorists are advised to use an alternate route.

State Route 36: Open with areas of one-way controlled traffic.

For the most up to date road information, visit CalTrans' road information site here.

Air Quality

Wildfire smoke has triggered an air quality advisory — with periods of "hazardous" conditions — in areas of Trinity County, including Hayfork and Trinity Center, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

In Humboldt County, Willow Creek, Hoopa, Orleans and are expected to be in the "good" zone, with periods of "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy" conditions.

For other areas in Humboldt County, air quality is generally forecast to be "good," to "moderate" smoke with periods of "unhealthy for sensitive groups" possible in Kneeland. For the latest air quality information, click here.

Here's the district's full rundown:
Humboldt County:
 Eureka (including Scotia to Trinidad) – Good conditions today
 Orleans – Good to Moderate with USG to Unhealthy returning on Tuesday
 Weitchpec – Good conditions
 Hoopa – Good overall, with possible USG on Tues/Wed
 Willow Creek – Good overall, with a possible return to USG to Unhealthy on Tues/Wed
 Garberville, Redway – Good conditions, with possible Moderate to USG on Tues/Wed

"Good" — air quality is satisfactory and poses little or no risk
"Moderate" — Sensitive individuals should limit prolonged or heavy exertion "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" — Sensitive groups should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion
"Unhealthy" — Sensitive groups should avoid all prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion
"Very Unhealthy" — Everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion
"Hazardous" — Everyone should avoid any outdoor activity

For the latest air quality information, click here and here.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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