Emergency

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Knob Fire Holding as River Complex Grows

Posted By on Tue, Sep 7, 2021 at 11:36 AM

Fire crews continued to make progress on the Knob Fire over the holiday weekend, as crews on the McCash Fire work to protect homes near Hyapom and stop the fire's advance toward Hayfork Creek and Hyampom Road and firefighters work to protect property threatened by the River Complex, which is expected to see another round of growth today.

While coastal Humboldt County will see pretty good to moderate air quality today, conditions around Hoopa, Orleans and Willow Creek will reach "unhealthy" levels.

With fires raging across the region and resources already stretched very thin, the U.S. Forest Service has 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 Knob Fire, 2,414 acres, 89 percent contained

The Knob Fire burning near Willow Creek started Aug. 29 around 3 p.m. on Brush Mountain and resources from the Monument and McCash fires were sent to aid with firefighting efforts.

Crews held the Knob Fire to under 2,500 acres while increasing containment to 89 percent as of this morning.

"Last night, fire behavior was minimal, with no spotting outside of the fire perimeter," this morning's update states. "Today, crews will continue to work on the north side strengthening and improving containment lines and extinguishing any hotspots within 300 feet of the perimeter of the fire."

An evacuation order remains in effect for areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/FS Road 6N08A to State Route 299, south of Victor Creek to China Creek; areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/FS Road 6N08A to the eastern perimeter of the Knob Fire south of China Creek to Friday Ridge Road; and areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/FS Road 6N08A to South Fork Trinity River, south of Friday Ridge Road to the end of the FS Road 6N20. Evacuation warnings remain in surrounding areas. For the latest map of evacuation zones, visit tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap.

The Monument Fire, 185,505 acres, 41 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.

State Route 299 has reopened but only during the day and with pilot cars leading traffic in both directions from Burnt Ranch to Helena at designated times every hour and a half starting at 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. The road will be closed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for everyone except local residents with proof of address and emergency traffic.

"Two areas of the fire remain active: the north side, which is primarily in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, and the southwest side, which is east of Hyampom," a Sept. 6 update states. "While suppression efforts are being implemented to protect the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, the Trinity Wild and Scenic River, Inventoried Roadless areas, and endangered species habitat, the highest priority remains the southwest side. Numerous resources are positioned near Hyampom to protect structures and make every effort to halt the fire’s southward advance toward Hayfork Creek and Hyampom Road."

Evacuation orders, as of yesterday evening, include all areas along Hyampom Road from Lucky Jeep Trail, east along both sides of Hyampom Road to Drink Water Gulch, including Fox Lane, Drink Water Gulch, and Phares Lane, according to the Trinity County Sheriff's Office. Warning areas include Hyampom Road east of Drink Water Gulch to Digger Gulch and South to Tule Creek Road and Green Gate Road are now under an Evacuation Warning. This includes: Turkey Track Road, Doctor Lane, Digger Gulch, Shangri La Lane, Green Gate Road, McAlexander Road.

For information on evacuation orders and warnings, evacutation sites and animal shelters, visit the Trinity County Sheriff's Office Facebook page here.

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

The McFarland Fire,
122,653 acres and is 98 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 last update had the fire at 98 percent containment, with a full containment estimate of Sept. 9.

Find the latest information here.

River Complex 2021, 135,698 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. The full complex stretches more than 135,000 acres and originally included 31 fires, three of which remain: the Cronan, Summer and Haypress fires.

Crews lost ground on the blaze, which grew by more than 14,000 acres overnight and went from 21 percent containment on Monday to 19 percent containment, according to this morning's update.

"Fire behavior was active yesterday and will be active again today with increased growth expected. Crews will use all available tools and tactics to protect lives, property, and other values, while providing for firefighter and public safety," the update states. "The Summer Fire has merged with the Haypress Fire. On the Haypress Fire, crews are dealing with spotting in the northeast, near Blue Jay Ridge. A point of Parker’s Spot has burned into the main fire. The Coffee Spike Camp will be moved to Trinity Center today. The Cronan Fire remains in patrol status."

New evacuation orders were issued for Callahan, Mosquito Lake, and Eagle Creek.

Siskiyou County has issued evacuation orders and warnings for the communities of Ceciville, Summerville, Petersburg and Sawyers Bar while Trinity County has issued evacuation orders and warnings for the communities of Coffee Creek, Carrville, and Trinity Center. For specific information regarding evacuations please visit https://www.co.siskiyou.ca.us/emergencyservices or https:///www.trinitycounty.org/OES.

Find more information here and a map of the fires' footprints here.

The McCash Fire:
57,038 acres, 15 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 was held to just more than 57,000 acres overnight and notched up a tad to 15 percent containment.

"Firefighters are preparing for changing weather and future wind events," an update states. "Today, a southerly flow will bring increased winds from the southwest that have the potential to push the fire northward."

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

The fire threatens significant cultural sites for the Karuk Tribe, as well as some structures on private lands. The current estimated containment date is Oct. 31. 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 hour and a half from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The road will be closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to everyone except local residents with proof of address.

State Route 36: Open.

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 "very unhealthy" conditions — in areas of Trinity County and eastern Humboldt County, including Orleans and Hooopa, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

For the latest air quality information, click here.

Here's the district's full rundown:
 Orleans – Overall Unhealthy; Hazardous this morning; potential for Good to Moderate tonight
 Hoopa – Unhealthy in the morning; potential for improvement in evening
 Willow Creek – Overall Unhealthy
 Trinity Center/Coffee Creek – Unhealthy in morning, Good/Moderate today; Hazardous periods overnight
 Douglas City – Overall Unhealthy
 Hayfork – Overall Unhealthy
 Eureka (including Scotia to Trinidad) – Good to Moderate
 Garberville & Redway – Good to Moderate, afternoon improvement
 Weitchpec – Overall USG; Very Unhealthy in the morning then potential for Good to Moderate tonight

"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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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Knob Fire Update: Officials Urge Residents in Evacuation Warning Zones to Prep Homes, Properties

Posted By on Thu, Sep 2, 2021 at 5:44 PM

Firefighters from multiple agencies, including some that were pulled off the Monument Fire defended houses at the end of Enchanted Creek Lane on Monday. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Firefighters from multiple agencies, including some that were pulled off the Monument Fire defended houses at the end of Enchanted Creek Lane on Monday.


Residents in the evacuation warning zones of areas east of Boise Creek to the Humboldt-Trinity County Line and south of the Trinity River to Victor Creek, are encouraged to conduct fire mitigation tactics to protect their homes and properties, including creating defensible space, from the possible threat of the Knob Fire.

The Knob Fire is currently estimated to span 2,179 acres and is 52 percent contained.

"Defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland area that surround it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it helps protect your home from catching fire — either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat," the release states. "Proper defensible space also provides firefighters a safe area to work in, to defend your home."

Other fire mitigation tactics include removing all vegetation, including dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation) inside and outside homes, removing dead or dry leaves and pine needles from yards, roofs and rain gutters, removing branches that hang over roofs, keeping dead branches 10 feet away from chimneys, trimming trees to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees, relocating woodpiles, removing or pruning flammable plants and shrubs near windows, removing vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks, balconies and stairs and creating a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles and swing sets.

For more information on defensible space click here.



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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Man in His 30s Killed in UTV Crash

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2021 at 2:55 PM

The California Highway Patrol is investigating a 4-wheeler crash in Southern Humboldt that left a man in his mid-30s dead yesterday evening.

According to a press release, the man was driving a side-by-side UTV at around 7 p.m. on a dirt road on private property near Island Mountain Road when he made an unsafe turn, causing the vehicle to overturn. The driver was ejected, causing fatal injuries.

"The driver was discovered some time later and rushed to Bell Springs Road, just north of Island Mountain Road, where was pronounced dead by paramedics," the press release states.

The man's name is being withheld at this time, until his family can be notified of his death.

The full press release is copied below:

Continue reading »

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UPDATE: Knob Fire Doubles in Size as Evacuation Orders Remain, Schools Close for the Week, 299 Under One-Way Traffic Control with Closure Possible

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2021 at 9:41 AM

UPDATE:
The Knob Fire doubled in size overnight to nearly 2,000 acres and remains 0 percent contained, according to a Forest Service update, as crews work to keep the fire on the west side of the South Fork Trinity River. 

PREVIOUS:
Evacuation orders remain in effect for the China Creek and Friday Ridge areas due to the Knob Fire, which was around 1,000 acres and 0 percent contained as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Caltrans reports that one-way traffic control is now in effect in the Willow Creek and Salyer areas of Route State 299 and warns that “it is possible the roadway will have to close.”

“Fire suppression efforts and favorable weather overnight kept the fire west of Highway 299 and the South Fork Trinity River,” an update from Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office states. “Due to heavy smoke impacting air resources, the current total acreage of the fire is unknown. Weather conditions forecasted for this afternoon present the potential for fire growth to the south and east.”

The incident team has given an estimated containment date of Oct. 3.

An EVACUATION ORDER remains in effect for:

Areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/Forest Route 6N08A to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to the end of Forest Route 6N20.

An EVACUATION WARNING remains in effect for:

Areas east of Boise Creek to the Trinity River, South of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road

Find a map of the evacuation area here.

The Humboldt County Office of Education states that all schools in the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District will be closed for the week.

An Evacuation Center remains open at the McKinleyville Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at 1200 Central Avenue, McKinleyville, for evacuees. Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

More information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, can be found at humboldtsheriff.org, @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or by calling 707-268-2500.

Read the full release below:

Evacuation warnings and orders remain in effect for the China Creek and Friday Ridge areas as fire crews work to contain the Knob Fire near Willow Creek.

CURRENT SITUATION

The Knob Fire originated Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021 between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. It is burning in timber, brush and grass. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is leading fire suppression efforts. According to California Incident Management Team 5, as of 5 p.m. August 31, the Knob Fire is was approximately 1,000 acres and 0% contained. Fire suppression efforts and favorable weather overnight kept the fire west of Highway 299 and the South Fork Trinity River. Due to heavy smoke impacting air resources, the current total acreage of the fire is unknown. Weather conditions forecasted for this afternoon present the potential for fire growth to the south and east.

According to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, approximately 1,200 customers are without power as of 8 a.m. September 1. See outage map: https://pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/outages/map/

Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies continue to patrol the mandatory evacuation zones and liaise with the fire Incident Management Team to ensure the safety of residents.

EVACUATION INFORMATION

An EVACUATION ORDER remains in effect for:

Areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/Forest Route 6N08A to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to the end of Forest Route 6N20.

An EVACUATION WARNING remains in effect for:

Areas east of Boise Creek to the Trinity River, South of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road

A map of evacuation zones is available at tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap

CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS

The following road closures are in effect related to the Knob Fire:

China Creek Road at Hodgson Road;

Burwood Drive;

Gypo Lane;

Friday Ridge Road;

Butterfly Creek Road.

The above routes are closed to entering traffic, but may be used by residents to leave the area in compliance with the evacuation order.

State Route 299 is currently open to one way controlled traffic in the fire area. Road conditions are subject to change based upon fire activity and public safety. Residents are encouraged to visit http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ to check for state highway closures.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY

An Evacuation Center remains open at the McKinleyville Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at 1200 Central Avenue, McKinleyville, for evacuees. Resources available at this location include:

Overnight sheltering;

Restrooms;

Water;

Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

Voting Information for Wildfire Evacuees:

https://humboldtgov.org/.../Press-Releases-Notices...

SIGN UP FOR HUMBOLDT ALERT

County residents are encouraged to sign up for county emergency notifications via Humboldt Alert at humboldtgov.org/alerts. Residents must opt-in to receive evacuation notifications via phone or email.

If having trouble signing up for Humboldt Alert online, please contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services at 707-268-2500

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Additional updates will be issued via press release as needed.

For more information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, please go to humboldtsheriff.org, visit @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or call 707-268-2500.

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UPDATE: Suspicious Death Investigation Near Herrick Avenue

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2021 at 9:01 AM

UPDATE:

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office reports its Criminal Investigations Division is currently investigating the suspicious death of a man found in the area of Herrick Avenue and Elk River Road.

His cause of death is under investigation, according to a news release. Deputies responded to the scene just before 7 a.m. today on the report of a man possibly needing medical help.

The sheriff's office is asking anyone with information to call 445-7251.

Read the HCSO update below:
On Sept. 1, 2021, at approximately 6:56 a.m., Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the area of Elk River Road and Herrick Avenue for the report of a man possibly in need of medical aid. Upon arrival to the area, deputies located a deceased male adult. The man’s cause of death is still under investigation and is considered suspicious at this time. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Division is investigating this case. Further information will be released when available and appropriate. Anyone with information about this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.
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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

UPDATE: 'Leave Now for Your Safety:' New Evacuation Orders for Knob Fire near Willow Creek

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2021 at 2:51 PM

The glow of the Monument Fire through the trees at night. - PHOTO BY CHRIS AYER, CORONA FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Photo by Chris Ayer, Corona Fire Department
  • The glow of the Monument Fire through the trees at night.
SECOND UPDATE:

The evacuation order has been expanded again to include areas east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road, due to shifting winds and increased fire activity on the northeast flank of the Knob Fire, according to the Humboldt County’s Sheriff’s Office in a 3:15 p.m. update.


UPDATE:

The Knob Fire evacuation order has been expanded to all areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road/Forest Route 6N08A to Highway 299, south of Butterfly Creek Road to the end of Forest Route 6N20.

“Leave now for your safety,” a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office post states.

PREVIOUS:
The Knob Fire has grown to 1,000 acres, with 0 percent containment, since starting Sunday near Willow Creek, prompting evacuation orders and warnings in the area and leaving about 1,100 people without power.

The cause has not been determined and the estimated containment date is Oct. 3.

Evacuation orders are in effect for areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road to State Route 299, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for areas east of Boise Creek to the Trinity River, south of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road and east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road as well as areas east of Forest Route 6N39 to the South Fork Trinity River, south of Friday Ridge Road to Old Campbell Creek.

China Creek Road at Hodgson Road, Burwood Drive at State Route 299 and Gypo Lane at State Route 299 haved been closed due to the fire but may be used by residents who are evacuating.

An evacuation center is now operating at the McKinleyville Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at 1200 Central Avenue. Services available include overnight sheltering, restrooms, water and Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

As of 8 a.m., State Route 299 was still open but travelers are encouraged to visit http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ to check for state highway closures.

More information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, can be found at humboldtsheriff.org, @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or by calling 707-268-2500.

Read the HCSO release below and find the Knob Fire incident page here:
Evacuation warnings and orders remain in effect for the China Creek and Friday Ridge areas as fire crews work to contain the Knob Fire near Willow Creek.

CURRENT SITUATION

The Knob Fire originated Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021 between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. It is burning in timber, brush and grass. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is leading fire suppression efforts. According to the USFS, as of 8 a.m. August 31, the Knob Fire is approximately 800 acres and 0% contained.

According to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, approximately 1,100 customers are without power as of 8 a.m. August 31. See outage map:

https://pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/outages/map/ Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies continue to patrol the mandatory evacuation zone and liaise with the USFS Incident Management Team.

EVACUATION INFORMATION

An EVACUATION ORDER remains in effect for: Areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road to Highway 299, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road. An EVACUATION WARNING remains in effect for: Areas east of Boise Creek to the Trinity River, south of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road. Areas east of Hwy 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road. Areas east of Forest Route 6N39 to the South Fork Trinity River, south of Friday Ridge Road to Old Campbell Creek.

A map of evacuation zones is available at tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap

CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS

The following road closures are in effect related to the Knob Fire: China Creek Road at Hodgson Road; Burwood Drive at State Route 299; Gypo Lane at State Route 299. The above routes are closed to entering traffic, but may be used by residents to leave the area in compliance with the evacuation order.

State Route 299 is currently open as of 8 a.m. Residents are encouraged to visit http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ to check for state highway closures.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY

An Evacuation Center has been opened at the McKinleyville Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at 1200 Central Avenue, McKinleyville, for evacuees. Resources available at this location include: Overnight sheltering; Restrooms; Water; Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

Voting Information for Wildfire Evacuees:

https://humboldtgov.org/2946/38197/Press-Releases-Notices-Recall2021

FOR MORE INFORMATION Additional updates will be issued via press release as needed. For more information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, please go to humboldtsheriff.org, visit @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or call 707-268-2500.


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Monday, August 30, 2021

THIRD UPDATE: New Evacuation Orders, Warnings for Knob Fire Near Willow Creek

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2021 at 9:51 PM

The Knob Fire burns south of Willow Creek early this morning. - BASHO PARKS/U.S. FOREST SERVICE FACEBOOK
  • Basho Parks/U.S. Forest Service Facebook
  • The Knob Fire burns south of Willow Creek early this morning.
THIRD UPDATE:

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has again updated evacuation orders and warnings for the Knob Fire burning near Willow Creek.

Evacuation orders are now in effect for areas east of Brushy Mountain Lookout Road to State Route 299, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for areas east of Boise Creek to the Trinity River, south of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road and east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Friday Ridge Road as well as areas east of Forest Route 6N39 to the South Fork Trinity River, south of Friday Ridge Road to Old Campbell Creek.

“Residents under an evacuation warning should prepare for potential evacuations, including personal supplies and overnight accommodations,” the update states. “Be ready to go at a moment's notice.”

An evacuation center is now operating at the McKinleyville Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at 1200 Central Avenue. Services available include overnight sheltering, restrooms, water and Red Cross services. See the HCSO post below:

SECOND UPDATE:
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has updated evacuation orders and warnings for the Knob Fire burning near Willow Creek.

Evacuation orders are now in effect for areas west of State Route 299 to the end of China Creek, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Christian School Road, excluding residents on Christian School Road, as well as areas west of Forest Route 6N33 to the end of Fourmile Creek, south of Christian School Road to Friday Ridge Road.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for areas east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road and areas east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek to Christian School Road, including residents on Christian School Road as well as areas east of Forest Route 6N33 to the Trinity River, south of Gypo Lane to Friday Ridge Road

“Residents under an evacuation warning should prepare for potential evacuations, including personal supplies and overnight accommodations,” the update states. “Be ready to go at a moment's notice.”
evac_map.jpg

UPDATE:

The Knob Fire burning near Willow Creek, prompting evacuations in the China Creek area, was 250 acres as of 8 a.m. today and 0 percent contained, according to an update from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

An evacuation order is in effect for Butterfly Creek Lane south to Gypo Lane and evacuation warnings are in effect for residents living west of the Trinity River in the areas of Panther Road south to Butterfly Creek Road and Gypo Lane south to Friday Ridge Road. A map of evacuation zones is available at tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap.

Road closures are in effect at China Creek Road at Hodgson Road, Burwood Drive at State Route 299 and Gypo Lane at State Route 299.

“The above routes are closed to entering traffic, but may be used by residents to leave the area in compliance with the evacuation order,” the HCSO update states.

The fire started yesterday around 3 p.m. on Brush Mountain.

An Evacuation Center is open at the Willow Creek Bible Church, located at 39 Brannan Mountain Road, Willow Creek, for evacuees. Resources available at site include overnight sheltering, restrooms, water and Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

State Route 299 was open as of 8 a.m. but travelers are encouraged to visit http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ to check for state highway closures.

More information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, can be found at humboldtsheriff.org, @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or by calling 707-268-2500.


Find the full HCSO release at the end of the article.


PREVIOUS:

A new fire sparked last night south of Willow Creek and quickly spread to more than 30 acres, prompting evacuations.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office issued an immediate evacuation order shortly before 10 p.m. for residents west of the Trinity River in the area of Butterfly Creek Lane south to Hypo Lane, with a warning for residents in the areas west of the Trinity River from Panther Road to Butterfly Creek Road, and from Gypo Road south to Friday Ridge Road.

An evacuation center has been set up at the Willow Creek Bible Church, with domestic and large animal sheltering available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds.

"Prepare for potential evacuation, including personal supplies and overnight accommodations," the Sheriff's Office advised in a Facebook post. "Be ready to go at a moment's notice."

An evening update for the nearby Monument Fire, which is burning east of Willow Creek along State Route 299 around Burnt Ranch, advises the Knob Fire is burning in the China Creek drainage about 2 miles south of Willow Creek and had grown to an estimated 30 acres as of 7 p.m. yesterday. Five helicopters were making water drops on the fire, according to the update, while seven engines, a water tender and other resources were mobilized from the Monument Fire to respond.

"We've been anticipating this uptick in fire behavior," Alaska Incident Management Team Operations Section Chief Karen Scholl said in the update. "We haven't seen the (smoke) lid come off of this fire since we've been here. It's going to be a challenge because we don't have enough resources to go around. WE'll be trying to hold what we've got."

Fifty structures were reportedly threatened by the Knob Fire as of last night. It's unclear what started the fire and to what degree the new blaze has been contained.

The current evacuation map for the Knob Fire. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • The current evacuation map for the Knob Fire.

Smoke from the Knob Fire seen from State Route 299 yesterday evening. - U.S. FOREST SERVICE FACEBOOK
  • U.S. Forest Service Facebook
  • Smoke from the Knob Fire seen from State Route 299 yesterday evening.
The Knob Fire burns south of Willow Creek yesterday evening. - BASHO PARKS/U.S. FOREST SERVICE FACEBOOK
  • Basho Parks/U.S. Forest Service Facebook
  • The Knob Fire burns south of Willow Creek yesterday evening.

Read the HCSO release below:
Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

Evacuation warnings and orders remain in effect for the China Creek area as fire crews work to contain the Knob Fire near Willow Creek.

CURRENT SITUATION

The Knob Fire originated Aug. 29, 2021 at approximately 3 p.m. on Brush Mountain in the China Creek watershed. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is leading fire suppression efforts. According to the USFS, as of 8 a.m. August 30, the Knob Fire is approximately 250 acres and 0% contained. 

Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies continue to patrol the mandatory evacuation zone and staff roadblocks.

EVACUATION INFORMATION

An EVACUATION ORDER remains in effect for residents in the area of:

Butterfly Creek Lane south to Gypo Lane.

An EVACUATION WARNING remains in effect for residents West of the Trinity River in the areas of:

Panther Road south to Butterfly Creek Road;

Gypo Lane south to Friday Ridge Road.

A map of evacuation zones is available at tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap

CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS

The following road closures are in effect related to the Knob Fire:

China Creek Road at Hodgson Road;

Burwood Drive at State Route 299;

Gypo Lane at State Route 299.

The above routes are closed to entering traffic, but may be used by residents to leave the area in compliance with the evacuation order.

State Route 299 is currently open as of 8 a.m. Residents are encouraged to visit http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ to check for state highway closures.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY

An Evacuation Center remains active at the Willow Creek Bible Church, located at 39 Brannan Mountain Road, Willow Creek, for evacuees. Resources available at this location include:

Overnight sheltering;

Restrooms;

Water;

Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Additional updates will be issued via press release as needed.

For more information regarding the Knob Fire, current impact and evacuation areas, please go to humboldtsheriff.org, visit @HumCoOES on Facebook and Twitter, or call 707-268-2500.

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Fire Updates: Knob Fire Impacting Air Quality; Windy Conditions Forecast in Some Fire Areas

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2021 at 2:17 PM

The glow of the Monument Fire through the trees at night. - PHOTO BY CHRIS AYER, CORONA FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Photo by Chris Ayer, Corona Fire Department
  • The glow of the Monument Fire through the trees at night.
Firefighters battling the Knob Fire near Willow Creek and a series of fires burning to Humboldt County's east are continuing to face hot and dry conditions with strong winds in some areas.

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 and State Route 36 is now open from the junction with State Route 3 to 1 mile west of Dry Creek

Air quality continues to be impacted by smoke, with an advisory in place for "unhealthy to hazardous" conditions in communities near the fire and Humboldt County seeing impacts ranging from "good" in along the coast to "unhealthy" in Willow Creek, mainly due to the Knob Fire.

With fires raging across the region and resources already stretched very thin, the U.S. Forest Service has 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 Knob Fire, 250 acres, 0 percent contained

The Knob Fire burning near Willow Creek started Aug. 29 around 3 p.m. on Brush Mountain and resources from the Monument and McCash fires were sent to aid with firefighting efforts.

Evacuation orders are now in effect for areas west of State Route 299 to the end of China Creek, south of Butterfly Creek Road to Christian School Road, excluding residents on Christian School Road, as well as areas west of Forest Route 6N33 to the end of Fourmile Creek, south of Christian School Road to Friday Ridge Road.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for areas east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Panther Creek Road to Butterfly Creek Road and areas east of State Route 299 to the Trinity River, south of Butterfly Creek to Christian School Road, including residents on Christian School Road as well as areas east of Forest Route 6N33 to the Trinity River, south of Gypo Lane to Friday Ridge Road

“Residents under an evacuation warning should prepare for potential evacuations, including personal supplies and overnight accommodations,” the update states. “Be ready to go at a moment's notice.”

 A map of evacuation zones is available at tinyurl.com/humcoevacmap.

Road closures are in effect at China Creek Road at Hodgson Road, Burwood Drive at State Route 299 and Gypo Lane at State Route 299.

“The above routes are closed to entering traffic, but may be used by residents to leave the area in compliance with the evacuation order,” the HCSO update states.

An Evacuation Center is open at the Willow Creek Bible Church, located at 39 Brannan Mountain Road, Willow Creek, for evacuees. Resources available at site include overnight sheltering, restrooms, water and Red Cross services.

Domestic and large animal sheltering is available at the Hoopa Rodeo Grounds, located on Pine Creek Road in Hoopa.

The Monument Fire, 164,746 acres, 29 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.

State Route 299 has reopened 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.

"With continued hot weather and clearer air, portions of the fire did become extremely active Sunday afternoon and into the night," today's update states. "Similar conditions are expected again today along with wind gusts of up to 25 miles an hour after 4 p.m. across some parts of the fire."

Evacuation orders are in effect for Barker Mountain, the NW portion of Hayfork Summit and North Hayfork Valley, north of Highway 3 including the north side of Hyampom Road from Hayfork to 9-mile bridge.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for Big Bar, Big Flat, Burnt Ranch, Douglas City, Junction City, areas south from Barker Mountain to Haystack, Denny, Hawkins Bar and Trinity Village. Additional areas south of State Road 3 and Hyampom Road from Hayfork Summit through the Town of Hayfork to 9-Mile Bridge are also in a warning status.

Evacuation centers have been set up at Shasta College, 11555 Old Oregon Trail, Building 1900, Redding CA; Willow Creek Bible Church, 39 Brannan Mountain Road, Willow Creek, CA; and Fireman’s Hall Pavilion, 9 Park Street in Fortuna.

For information on evacuation orders and warnings, evacutation sites and animal shelters, visit the Trinity County Sheriff's Office Facebook page here.

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

The McFarland Fire,
122,653 acres and is 94 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.

Firefighters were able to hold the fire to 122,653 acres during the weekend and "fire behavior is expected to be limited on the incident today," the update states.

"The weather is expected to be hot, dry and windy today and could cause interior fuels within the containment line to burn and cause smoke from within the fire area to be seen," the update states. "Firefighters will remain on patrol of the fire perimeter, perform mop up and remove excess equipment and trash from the fire area. The extended hot and dry weather will continue through today with minimum relative humidity around 10-12 percent and temperature to be in the mid 90s. There will be elevated fire weather concerns with northwest winds expected to increase with gusts of 25-30 mph on ridges and in aligned drainages."

Evacuation in Shasta and Tehama counties were lifted over the weekend. The Forest Closure Order for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest remains in place.
State Route 36 is now open from the junction with State Route 3 to 1 mile west of Dry Creek.

Find the latest information here and view a map of the fire's footprint here.

River Complex 2021, 98,832 acres, 23 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 nearly 99,000 acres and originally included 31 fires, three of which remain: the Cronan, Summer, and Haypress fires.

"Activity on the Summer fire was along the western border, as the fire progressed from Saint Clair Creek to French Creek. Crews continued to secure the north perimeter of the Haypress and hold the east fork of the Salmon River as the main fire progresses down from Fish Lake to their back burn operations," today's update states. "Fire activity has increased along the east flank of the Haypress, specifically north of the Three Sisters Gulch area along Upper Coffee Creek Road. Crews on the Cronan fire continue to hold and secure the control lines."

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:
36,398 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 continued to grow overnight, reach nearly 30,000 acres.

"Night shift continued to work on holding and securing the line on the western edge of the fire. They patrolled the highway 96 corridor throughout the night to assess fire movement and smoke impacts to the roads," today's update states. "Firefighters have completed structure assessments and preparation from Dillon Campground to the Clear Creek area. Today crews will continue to secure the perimeter by mopping up hot spots along the west side."

A community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at Gail Zink Park in Happy Camp.

Tempuratures are forecast to drop into the 80s throughout much of the fire area today and tomorrow with relative humidity at 15-20percent. Winds are expected to be 5 to 10 mph but with localized impacts from the terrain.

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

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: Open except for in Lassen County where it's closed from Mooney Road in Westwood to the junction of State Route 44.

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  "very unhealthy to hazardous" conditions — in areas of Trinity County, including Trinity Center/Coffee Creek and Hayfork in the "very unhealthy to hazardous" zone while Weaverville, Junction City, Douglas City, Platina and Lewiston are "unhealthy to very unhealthy" with periods of "hazardous," according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

In Humboldt County, conditions are expected to "good" in Eureka (from Scotia to Trinidad) "moderate to unhealthy" in Hoopa and "unhealthy" in Willow Creek. Orleans is forcast to be overall "unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy."

For the latest air quality information, click here.

Here's the district's full rundown:
Eureka (including Scotia to Trinidad) – Good conditions
Orleans – USG to Unhealthy, smoke could remain heavy tonight
Hoopa Valley – Moderate to Unhealthy primarily due to Knob Fire, possibly worsen overnight
Willow Creek – Unhealthy primarily due to Knob fire, possibly worsen overnight
Garberville, Redway – Good to Moderate conditions
Weitchpec – Good to Moderate conditions


"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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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Fire Updates: Crews Facing Hot, Dry Conditions Today as Smoke Impacts Extend to the Coast

Posted By on Sat, Aug 28, 2021 at 1:03 PM

A view of the River Complex in the distance. - INCIWEB
  • inciweb
  • A view of the River Complex in the distance.
Firefighters battling the handful of fires burning to Humboldt County's east are facing hot tempuratures and low humidity today as evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect for several nearby communities although evacuations due to the McFarland Fire have been lifted in Shasta and Tehama counties.

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 and State Route 36 is now open from the junction with State Route 3 to 1 mile west of Dry Creek

Air quality continues to be impacted by smoke, with an advisory in place for "unhealthy to hazardous" conditions in communities near the fire and Humboldt County seeing impacts ranging from "moderate" to "unhealthy." Conditions along the coast are forecast to worsen in the afternoon.

With fires raging across the region and resources already stretched very thin, the U.S. Forest Service has 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, 160,148 acres, 22 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 has reopened 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.

While thick smoke is expected to help slow the fire's growth, crews will be facing the hottest and driest conditions forecast for this week and shifting winds.

 “It may seem a lot like yesterday and the days before, but please keep your guards up today,” Operations Section Chief Karen Scholl warned firefighters during their morning meeting today. “The changing winds and the possibility of clear air late this afternoon, along with the critically dry fuels, can be a dangerous combination.”

Evacuation orders remain in effect for Barker Mountain, the NW portion of Hayfork Summit and North Hayfork Valley, north of Highway 3.

Areas on evacuation warnings now include Big Bar, Big Flat, Burnt Ranch, Douglas City, Junction City, 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, 2,319 personnel, 35 hand crews, 171 engines, 18 helicopters, 56 dozers, 49 water tenders, 3 skidgines, 21 masticators and three 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,
122,653 acres and is 93 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.

Firefighters continue to make progress on containing the fire, with "crews again worked primarily in Beegum Gorge and along Highway 36 mopping up and extinguishing any hot spots near containment lines and patrolled the rest of the fire," according to today's update

A damage assessment team has identified 24 residential structures and 22 other structures that have been destroyed and one residential structure damaged. Currently, 310 total personnel, including three hand crews; five engines; two helicopters; five dozers; eight water tenders and one masticator are allocated to the effort.

Evacuation in Shasta and Tehama Counties have been lifted and returning residents are asked to drive carefully as crews continue to work in the fire area. The Forest Closure Order for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest remains in place.
State Route 36  is now open from the junction with State Route 3 to 1 mile west of Dry Creek. Find the latest information here and view a map of the fire's footprint here.

River Complex 2021, 96,525 acres, 23 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 more than 96,000 acres and includes 22 fires, six of which have been fully contained.

"On Friday, clearer skies and breezy conditions increased fire activity across the Haypress and Summer fires," today's update states. "Crews on the Cronan fire continue to hold and secure the control lines. Crews increased containment on the Parker Spot fire that is burning southeast of the Haypress. Decreasing winds tonight should provide optimal conditions for the night shift and their firing operations."

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:
29,479 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 continued to grow overnight, reach nearly 30,000 acres.

"Warmer, drier weather and clearer skies contributed to increased fire activity yesterday, but also allowed for all three helicopters to support firefighters’ suppression efforts on the ground throughout the day," an update reads, saying crews worked overnight to contain spot fires detected east of Ti Bar and on the southwest corner of the fire near road 13N51Y. "

Tempuratures are forecast to peak in the 90s throughout much of the fire area today and tomorrow with relative humidity falling to 8-15 percent. Winds are expected to be terrain-driven with upper ridgelines seeing light, northerly winds.

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: Open from the junction with State Route 3 to 1 mile west of Dry Creek

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

In Humboldt County, conditions are expected to "moderate" in Eureka (from Scotia to Trinidad) with possible periods of "unhealthy for sensitive groups" in the afternoon as well as Weitchpec, Garberville and Redway, with conditions in Hoopa and Willow Creek "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy."  Orleans is forcast to be overall "unhealthy" with improvements expected overnight.

For the latest air quality information, click here.

Here's the district's full rundown:
• Eureka (including Scotia to Trinidad) – Moderate, possible periods of USG in afternoon with smoke aloft
• Weitchpec – Moderate to USG
•Hoopa Valley – Overall USG, Unhealthy midday, then improving
• Willow Creek – Overall USG, Unhealthy midday, then improving
• Garberville, Redway – Overall Moderate with periods of USG, improving overnight

"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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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Nurse Shortages in California Reaching Crisis Point

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2021 at 1:55 PM

In the past month, four emergency room nurses — exhausted by the onslaught of patients and emotional turmoil wrought by COVID-19 — have quit at the Eureka hospital where Matt Miele works.

Miele, who has been a trauma nurse for four years, is actively looking for a less stressful nursing position and has colleagues who are, too.

“On the bad days, I think ‘What am I doing and is this what I want to be doing?’” Miele said. “It’s shifting me to my core.”

Matt Miele, a trauma nurse, is looking for a less stressful position after 18 months of fighting COVID. Photo courtesy of Matt Miele

Around California — and the nation — nurses are trading in high-pressure jobs for a career change, early retirement or less demanding assignments, leading to staffing shortages in many hospitals.

Hospitals are struggling to comply with the state’s nurse staffing requirements as pandemic-induced burnout has exacerbated an already chronic nursing shortage nationwide.

But burnout isn’t the only thing compounding California’s nursing shortage: The state’s new vaccine mandate for health care workers is already causing headaches for understaffed hospitals before it is even implemented. Some traveling nurses — who are in high demand nationwide — are turning down California assignments because they don’t want to get vaccinated.

Hospitals say they are reaching a crisis point, straining under the dual forces of more people seeking routine care and surging COVID-19 hospitalizations driven by the Delta variant.

“Oftentimes at hospitals there are long waits and long delays,” said Dr. Tom Sugarman, an emergency physician in the East Bay and senior director of government affairs at Vituity, a physicians’ group. “There’s not enough staff to keep beds open, and patients can languish waiting.”

In March 2020, the California Department of Public Health contracted with Aya Health — one of the nation’s largest traveling nurse providers — to pay up to $1 billion over six months to help hospitals meet nursing and other clinical staff shortages.

Department officials did not respond to multiple requests about the number of hospitals now seeking emergency staffing, and would not release the updated contract.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order reinstating emergency provisions aimed at ensuring adequate staffing. In part, the order allows health care workers from out of state to work in California.

Unprecedented staff shortages

Before the pandemic, nursing shortages were common in most areas of the state, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Now the pandemic has stretched resources to a breaking point.

Hospitals, some with more COVID-19 patients now than during the winter surge, say they are confronting unprecedented staffing shortages, particularly among nurses.

“All of our hospitals are saying staffing is a big problem,” said Lois Richardson, attorney for the California Hospital Association. “We have fewer personnel than at the beginning of the pandemic and more patients.”

The staffing shortage is so severe that Scripps Health is considering temporarily consolidating some of its outpatient centers. Scripps, which has five hospitals and 28 outpatient clinics in the San Diego area, told CalMatters that it is serving nearly 20% more patients on average than before the pandemic. At the same time, job openings at the hospitals have increased 57% since August 2019. For nursing jobs alone, vacancies have increased 96%.

“We’ve had some staff leave the organization or leave the industry as a whole because they’re burned out,” said Eric Cole, corporate senior vice president of human resources for Scripps. “They’ll wake up in the morning and call off the shift. They’ve done as much as they can do.”

“All of our hospitals are saying staffing is a big problem. We have fewer personnel than at the beginning of the pandemic and more patients.”

Lois richardson, california hospital association

Emotional and physical exhaustion is the primary reason nurses are fleeing the bedside, experts say. It has been a long and brutal 18 months.

“We thought the pandemic would be over soon and could take time later to deal with our emotions,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in the country, which has more than 100,000 members in its California association. “Then the second surge hit, and the third and now it’s the fourth.”

Mary Lynn Briggs, an ICU nurse in Bakersfield, said of the dozens of COVID-19 patients she has treated since the pandemic began, only three have survived.

“Some days coming home from the hospital I yell at God, I yell at myself, I yell at COVID and cry. And that’s all before I pull into my driveway,” Briggs said.

Her workplace has lost more staff than they can hire, and that means the ones who are left have to pick up the slack.

“There have been multiple nights where I swear I am tired and I need a night off, and then I get a call from somebody saying we’re going to give the nurse three patients, so I go in because I don’t want anyone to work out of ratio,” Briggs said.

“Some days coming home from the hospital I yell at God, I yell at myself, I yell at COVID and cry. And that’s all before I pull into my driveway.”

Mary Lynn Briggs, ICU nurse in Bakersfield

“Out of ratio” means that a nurse is assigned too many patients. California is the only state that caps the number of patients that can be assigned to a single nurse. Under state requirements, for instance, an ICU nurse can have no more than two patients and an emergency room nurse, no more than four.

In December, during the winter surge, emergency waivers for the ratios were granted to hospitals throughout the state, allowing ICU nurses to see three patients, for instance. Critics say the conditions threatened patient safety.

Newsom’s order last week did not reinstate the waivers of the nurse-patient ratios, which expired on Feb. 8. Individual facilities, however, can still apply for them.

“I would not be surprised if they reapply for waivers,” union president Triunfo-Cortez said.

The state health department did not respond to requests seeking information on whether hospitals have applied for staffing waivers in response to the shortages.

Vaccine mandate complicates staffing

Hospital administrators worry that the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, which goes into effect Sept. 30, could drive some of their workers out. Already, some report resistance among employees.

“One hospital told us they had 474 unvaccinated employees. They did a big education and incentive push. Only 12 people signed up,” said Richardson, the hospital association’s attorney.

Administrators are particularly concerned about low vaccination rates among support staff like janitors and food service workers. However, some nurses also are wary of the COVID-19 vaccine. Some nurses with large social media followings have participated in protests in Southern California, arguing that the mandates violate their personal freedom.

“If they don’t want to get vaccinated, they are turning down California assignments.”

Eric Cole, Scripps Health

The vaccine order allows only for narrow religious and medical exemptions. Until Sept. 30, unvaccinated workers must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The state nursing association issued a statement saying “all eligible people should be vaccinated.”

While California was first in the nation to impose a vaccine mandate for health care workers, other states have since joined in, but their mandates aren’t as broad.

Cole of Scripps Health said the state’s testing requirement, imposed this week, already has discouraged some out-of-state, traveling nurses from taking temporary jobs at California hospitals.

“If they don’t want to get vaccinated, they are turning down California assignments,” he said.

Traveling nurses in high demand

To contend with local shortages, hospitals are increasingly turning to hiring temporary, traveling nurses from around the country.

During the past 18 months, Janet Stovall, a traveling ICU nurse for more than 20 years, has worked in hospitals in the Imperial Valley town of Brawley, Visalia, Wichita, Kan., and now Folsom and Alameda — and all of them have been running on “very lean staffing.”

“Last night there were ambulances waiting just to get into the ER to be evaluated… They pulled a nurse from the ICU to help with the ER, and we worked without a charge nurse or a break nurse,” Stovall said.

Stovall said traveling nurses like her are in high demand. At one hospital, “we hadn’t even finished orientation when the VP of patient services called and said ‘You need to leave right now, test out of orientation, and be at work by 11 p.m.,’” Stovall said. “That’s how desperate they are.”

Nurses Janet Stovall, left, and Candace Brim, right, are based in North Carolina but have been traveling as a pair since the beginning of this year. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
In the past seven months, every COVID patient that Janet Stovall (left) and Candace Brim treated has died. “We took care of about 65 COVID patients in Brawley and not a single one made it,” Stovall said. “We coded one every night…Before (COVID), you could make a difference in someone’s life. Now I will do anything for a patient, and it does not make a difference.” Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Sophia Morris, vice president of account management at Aya Healthcare, said California has the second highest number of positions posted for nurses, exceeded only by Texas.

Nationwide more than 52,000 temporary health care jobs are posted, and Aya is only able to fill about 3,000 per week, she said.

“In the 16 years I’ve been in this space, I have never seen this high a need,” Morris said.

That need is creating intense competition for a limited pool of nurses nationwide.

“Nurses are getting paid premiums to work in Texas and Florida where it’s surging right now,” Sugarman said. “Those nurses have to come from somewhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some are coming from California.”

Hospitals have been paying twice as much as pre-pandemic times for travelers, Morris said.

To entice nurses to come to California, the state Department of Public Health agreed to pay up to $145 per hour for Aya Health’s ICU nurses and more if a facility had a “critical need.” Stovall, who works for Aya, said between October and December 2020, she was paid $10,000 per week with an additional $2,000 if she picked up an extra shift.

It’s working — but not without consequences.

The money is pulling full-time staff nurses into traveling positions, further aggravating the staffing shortage nationwide. Stovall, who is based in North Carolina, said her sister-in-law took a week’s vacation from a full-time nursing gig to pick up an $8,000 traveling contract. She also convinced a longtime friend, Candace Brim, to leave her staff position and travel during the height of the pandemic in December.

“Everywhere we go people ask, ‘Can we get your recruiter’s number?’ We’ve given it out 20 times,’” she said.

Traveling has been key to helping them avoid burnout, Brim and Stovall said. It’s rewarding to be able to come in and “save the situation” at hospitals in dire need of extra hands, Brim said, and the money is good enough that they can afford to take weeks off at a time after difficult assignments. Their contracts in Folsom and Alameda last until Thanksgiving.

“By the time we finish our contract in November, we will have enough money to sit home the rest of November and December all through the holidays,” Stovall said.

Time off has helped them cope with the somber realities of treating COVID-19 patients in the ICU: In the past seven months, every COVID patient Brim and Stovall treated has died.

“We took care of about 65 COVID patients in Brawley and not a single one made it,” Stovall said. “We coded one every night.

“Before (COVID-19), you could make a difference in someone’s life. Now I will do anything for a patient, and it does not make a difference. …Three days later they don’t make it.”

Will so many nurses burn out and leave the profession that California will face long-term shortages? It’s possible. Pre-pandemic, one projection said California will be short more than 44,000 nurses by 2030, while other studies suggested that there will be an adequate supply of new graduates.

Low staffing stresses out ER nurses

In Humboldt County, all floors are at full capacity at the hospital where ER nurse Miele works. Humboldt is one of the areas experiencing record-setting COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Miele has had patients who waited 10 to 12 hours in the emergency room. Sometimes, the patients he checks on at 9:30 p.m. before he leaves are still in the waiting room the next morning when he returns to work.

“To me it seems like the lowest staffing levels that I’ve seen at the time we need it the most,” he said, adding that he frequently works at a patient-to-emergency-room-nurse ratio that exceeds the four-to-one required by the state.

People are triaged in the waiting room “like a mass casualty patient event,” getting their initial assessments and tests ordered before ever seeing the inside of an examination room. He said he worries because staff are unable to routinely monitor the patients in the waiting rooms.

His hospital hasn’t yet rationed care by prioritizing who gets treated based on who is most likely to survive, but it is being discussed, Miele said.

“Stress is part of the game when you sign up to be an emergency medicine RN,” he said, “but this is another level.”

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