Northern California fires: Smith River Complex grows to over 40,000 acres at 0% containment 

Northern California fires: Smith River Complex grows to over 40,000 acres at 0% containment 

Wildfires continue to rage following lightning strikes across Northern California. The largest of the fires, the Smith River complex, has reached over 40,000 acres and is at 0% containment. Much of northeast Del Norte County is under evacuation orders due to the blaze. Dozens of other fires burn.

Smith River Complex

Fire personnel noted firefighters are facing complex weather conditions and challenging terrain in a morning briefing Tuesday.

“This fire would be complex if it was just one fire, the Kelly fire. When we came here there were 12,” said Nic Elmquist, fire behavior analyst during the briefing. He noted that from aerial views, it looks like the fires want to grow together — two of the larger fires of the complex, the Kelly and Holiday fires, recently merged.

The Kelly fire, which forced the closure of state Route 199 last week, reportedly moved southwest, growing 2.5 miles in the early morning Tuesday according to a U.S. Forest Service news release. More than 1,150 personnel are on scene to face the complex, with more expected to arrive soon.

“Strong northeast winds affected the fire area overnight, but an inversion settled in, dampening fire behavior on most of the complex yesterday morning,” the release noted. Good firefighting weather Tuesday was noted at the briefing, but gentle dry wind is expected into the night, mostly at ridge tops. Cooler weather and cloud cover helped efforts for many of the fires due to remnants of Hurricane Hilary, but a warming trend is expected for the next few days.

Nick Cleary, a state official, noted in the morning briefing that work has been done near the evacuated town of Gasquet, including a dozer line to the north. He said efforts have been made to protect historic buildings nearby. He noted that crews had to be pulled out of several fires due to activity in the Kelly Fire. Others were taken out of situations unsafe for the firefighters. A number of fires go unmanned.

A dozer line is underway in the north section of the complex, from Monkey Creek Ridge to state Route 199. The release notes that a plan is being made for coordinated structure protection in the event of significant fire behavior movement toward residents, with firefighters assessing structures in the Dwight Creek area and preparing structures in Elk Creek. Good weather Monday allowed for the firefighters to focus on structure preparation along 199.

The Del Norte County Fairgrounds is being used as a shelter by the American Red Cross. The Del Norte Office of Emergency Services is releasing evacuation orders and information for those impacted by the fire. Some Del Norte County school openings have been postponed as a result of fires.

Lightning Complex

Firefighting closer to the coast of Humboldt County is making headway, according to the U.S. Forest Service. At a Tuesday morning briefing from Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst, said firefighters made good progress on the Lone Pine Fire. The fire, located south of Hoopa, is estimated at 1,678 acres as of Wednesday.

“I’m feeling really comfortable with what we have here,” he said of the Lone Pine Fire.

According to a release from the U.S. Forest Service, crews are pushing the fire toward the mainstem Trinity River into a planned backing alignment, while holding current lines. Crews are beginning mop-up activities.

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The Pearch Fire, located east of Orleans, has prompted Orleans and Somes Bar to be under an evacuation warning, impacting slightly more than 200 residents. According to the release, the fire is estimated at around 981 acres. It’s pushed toward the north fork of Boise Creek, and structure personnel are assessing and preparing homes in the neighborhood.

In Redwood National and State Parks lands, two fires have been contained. A third, the Lost Fire, is around 529 acres.

“Crews are working to prevent the fire from entering old growth forest,” a USFS release noted. Cal Fire and Green Diamond Resource Co. are collaborating with suppression efforts, according to the release.

Firefighting is also active on the Mosquito Fire, estimated at 1,061 acres.

Closures are in effect in the Six Rivers National Forest. They can be found at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/srnf/notices/?cid=FSEPRD1096395. Outdoor activities are not recommended due to wildfire danger and unhealthy air quality.

These fires have prompted closures for Six Rivers National Forest as well as the Lost Man Trail in Redwood National and State Parks. The release advises against outdoor activities due to wildfire and poor air quality. Visit https://protect.genasys.com to learn your zone for Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties.

South Fork

The South Fork Complex is at 20% of overall containment as of Tuesday. A dozer line is being constructed on the 3-9 fire, the largest in the complex at 9% containment, with most of the resources for the complex assigned to this fire. A news release notes that moisture Monday cooled down parts of the Pilot Fire and crews have been successful with handline.

“Fuels are wet from yesterday’s rain, but will be drying out over the next several days which could increase fire behavior,” the release noted.

Sage Alexander can be reached at 707-441-0504.