Thursday, August 26, 2021

Fire Updates: 299 Reopen During the Day with Pilot Escort

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2021 at 12:48 PM

Heavy smoke largely blanketed the handful of fires burning to Humboldt County's east earlier this week, reducing fire activity and aiding firefighting efforts. Crews reported progress — from increased containment to the implementation of community safety plans — on all four fires, to varying degrees, but drier conditions going into the weekend are expected to heighten fire behavior.

A total of 3,654 people have been deployed from various agencies to work the fires, which now combine to span nearly 380,000 acres, bringing evacuation orders and warnings to nearby communities and a host of impacts as far west as the coast. State Route 299 has reopened during the day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with pilot cars leading traffic in both directions from Burnt Ranch to Helena. State Route 36 is closed from the junction at State Route 3 to Bowman Road, located about 17 miles west of Red Bluff. Air quality will continue to be impacted by smoke, with an advisory in place for communities in eastern Humboldt.

With fires raging across the region and resources already stretched very thin, the U.S. Forest Service last week temporarily closed nine National Forests, including Klamath, Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers.

Here's a brief look at each of the first burning near Humboldt and what you need to know.

The Fires
The Monument Fire, 157,287 acres, 20 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 on July 30 and saw modest growth of about 5,000 acres since Tuesday. State Route 299 will be reopened today but only during the day and with pilot cars leading traffic in both directions from Burnt Ranch to Helena at designated times every three hours starting at 7 a.m. Pilot cars will leave east and west points at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The road will be closed after the last escorted group of the day until 7 a.m. for everyone, except local residents with proof of address and emergency traffic.

"Crews across the fire are preparing for hotter, drier and windier conditions today and into the weekend. These conditions could prove challenging for firefighters as heavy smoke during the past week has helped lower temperatures and raise humidity, which has limited the fire’s growth. However, smoke should start clearing around mid-afternoon and by late this afternoon wind gusts of up to 25 miles an hour could promote active fire growth," an update reads.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for Hayfork north of Highway 3, Sky Ranch Road and Dutch Creek but other orders have been reduced to warnings. Areas on evacuation warnings now include Big Bar, Big Flat, Burnt Ranch, Douglas City, Junction City, Weaverville, areas south from Barker Mountain to Haystack, the north side of Hyampom Road from Hayfork to 9-mile bridge, Denny, Hawkins Bar and Trinity Village. For information on evacuation sites and animal shelters, visit the Trinity County Sheriff's Office Facebook page here.

Damage assessment teams have confirmed 50 structures have been destroyed in the blaze to date. Currently, 1,992 people, 24 hand crews, 153 engines, 15 helicopters, 57 dozers, 47 water tenders, 3 skidgines, 4 masticators, 21 excavators are allocated to the fire.

For more information, check the incident website here and a map of the fire's footprint here.

The McFarland Fire,
122,598 acres and is 84 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 gusty conditions last night created a warmer and much dryer morning. Today, temperatures are expected to reach the mid-80s with relative humidity dropping in the teens. Winds will be northwest north with gusts to 17 mph," an update reads.

The priority remains in Beegum Gorge along Noble Ridge mopping up and ensuring there are no hot spots that would threaten the line. In the western and northern areas of the fire, fire crews continue to pull hose and excess equipment, and open roads in the interior of the fire.

A damage assessment team has identified 46 structures — including 24 residences — that have been destroyed in the blaze, with another damaged. Currently, 680 total personnel, 11 hand crews, 37 engines, 7 helicopters, 31 dozers, 18 water tenders, 3 masticators are allocated to the effort.

Evacuation orders are in effect for portions of Shasta and Tehama counties, but not Humboldt.  State Route 36 remains closed from the junction of State Route 3 to 9.2 miles east of the Shasta-Tehema county line and from Harrison Gulch to Vestal Road. Find the latest information here and view a map of the fire's footprint here.

River Complex 2021, 90,929 acres, 19 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. Containment of the fire grew significantly since Tuesday. The full complex stretches 90,000 acres and includes 22 fires, six of which have been fully contained.

"A weak upper-level weather system will bring a shift in winds out of the northwest across the River Complex today," an update reads. "Warm temperatures, low humidity and increasing winds may result in elevated fire behavior this afternoon."

The Haypress Fire continues to hold along the east fork of the Salmon River from the Caribou Road to Hazel Gulch. Crews will continue to utilize an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) drone to conduct a firing operation between I Am Up Ridge and Dog Pow Gulch. The west flank of the Summer Fire crossed the Sainte Claire Creek yesterday and will continue to burn toward Plummer Creek on the boundary of the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The Cronan Fire continues to remain within planned control lines. Crews will continue to mop up areas close to the perimeter. Several large, unburned pockets remain in the northwest portion of the fire.

Evacuation orders are in effect for Cecilville, Summerville, Petersburg and Coffee Creek Road Past Sugar Pine Trailhead in Trinity County. A warning remains in place for Sawyers Bar, Coffee Creek and Trinity Center. The estimated date of containment is Oct. 1. Find more information here.

The McCash Fire:
25,748 acres, 0 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. "East of Patterson, crews working along line on 13N11 have made significant progress and are hoping to tie in with the 2017 Haypress burn area in the next few days," an update reads. "To the northeast, crews were able to quickly contain two spot fires yesterday off the 13N02 road. Firefighters have been working to improve line along that road up to Ukonom Mountain and the fire has been moving as anticipated in that area. North of the fire, the dozer line has been extended on the southeast portion of Elk Creek to the Marble Mountain Wilderness boundary."

Winds are expected to shift to come from the north, bringing in warmer, drier air. The relative humidity is forecast to be between 20 and 30 percent. Ridgetop winds are expected to be 6-8 mph with gusts up to 15 mph.

Evacuation orders and warnings are in place for areas of Siskiyou County. Visit the county's website for up-to-date information here.

A total of 352 people are currently allocated to the fire suppression effort.

The fire threatens significant cultural sites for the Karuk Tribe, as well as some structures on private lands. The current estimated containment date is Sept. 29. Find more information here.

Travel
State Route 299: Reopened during the day with pilot cars leading traffic in both directions from Burnt Ranch to Helena at designated times every three hours starting at 7 a.m. and the last escort at 7 p.m. The road will be closed after the last escorted group of the day until 7 a.m. for everyone, except local residents with proof of address and emergency traffic.

State Route 36: Closed from the junction of State Route 3 to east of the Shasta-Tehama County Line at Vestal Road. Motorists are advised to use an alternate route.

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 "unhealthy to very unhealthy" conditions — in areas of Trinity County, including Weaverville, Junction City, Trinity Center/Coffee Creek, Hayfork, Platina and Burnt Ranch, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

In Humboldt County, conditions are expected to be "good" and "moderate" in Eureka (from Scotia to Trinidad) and Weitchpec, overall "moderate" in Orleans and Garberville, Redway, with periods of "moderate" to "unhealthy" in Hoopa and Willow Creek.

For the latest air quality information, click here.

Here's the district's full rundown:
 Eureka (including Scotia to Trinidad) – Good to Moderate conditions
 Orleans – Overall Moderate with periods of smoke
 Weitchpec – Good to Moderate
 Hoopa – Overall Moderate, Unhealthy periods midday, then improving overnight
 Willow Creek – Overall Moderate, Unhealthy periods midday, then improving overnight
 Garberville, Redway – Moderate
"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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Iridian Casarez

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Iridian Casarez is a staff writer at the North Coast Journal.

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