Smith River Complex wildfire now burning at over 52,000 acres, still at 0% containment

Smith River Complex wildfire now burning at over 52,000 acres, still at 0% containment

The Smith River Complex continues to burn, with widespread power outages in Del Norte County set to be addressed by Friday or Saturday of this week, according to officials. Thousands of firefighters are on site building dozer lines and prepping structures.

The Smith River Complex is now burning at an estimated 52,563 acres in Del Norte County with 0% containment.

A red flag warning for a large swath of Northern California has been issued by the National Weather Service out of Eureka, expecting more lightning into the early hours of Friday amid dry conditions, potentially sparking more fires across a region where dozens are already burning.

“Forecasts are pointing to a dynamic weather day as fast-moving thunderstorms are predicted to be around the fire area in the afternoon and possibly overnight,” a Thursday release from the U.S. Forest Service notes. The greatest danger is gusts of winds coming from these storms.

At a community meeting, state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) urged California officials to declare a state of emergency over the blaze, which has led to the evacuations of rural towns and left many without power.

“We’re currently working with the California Office of Emergency Services as well as the governor’s office to see if we can get this state declared emergency. It’s absolutely critical,” he said, a top priority after the effort to restore power.

Difficult terrain has created challenges for firefighters, across an area notorious for steep hills and difficult access. Firefighting efforts were bolstered over the past few days by equipment that arrived on scene, said Nick Cleary at the meeting, a fire official.

He noted that the focus has been to create containment lines around the town of Gasquet.

“It’s a tough one because you have fire on both sides of the community of Gasquet,” he said, pointing out a number of lines that have been put in around decommissioned roads on many sides of the town, with help from Caltrans.

He said the biggest worry is an area in steep, “tough country” that is slowing down efforts for a containment line being constructed. He called this a back door for firefighting efforts, in an area near French Hill Road.

Attendees of the meeting applauded when Cleary pointed out a fire that had been contained, the Doe Fire. He said that Tuesday was the first day aircraft could be used — the Inciweb page for the complex notes that an estimated 300,000 gallons were delivered throughout the day by five very large air tankers.

Officials announced at the meeting that state Route 199, described by California Highway Patrol Lt. Commander Pete Roach, as a vital artery for the community, would have partial openings twice a day starting Monday. A release from CHP notes that the highway is a connection that brings resources and medical supplies to the communities.

Roach said Caltrans crews have been cleaning up the blocked highway so firefighters could get through, starting the day after the fire caused a collapse.

One of the more important resources the highway can bring are generators during power outages, with some Facebook posts noting nearby stores have sold out of critical items.

“Things just aren’t meant to run on generators,” said Eric Wier, city manager for Crescent City at the meeting, adding that things keep breaking and public works crews have been putting in 12- to 16-hour days to address the need for power. Medically sensitive people have been prioritized for some generators provided by Pacific Power.

McGuire said that large, commercial-grade generators will be plugged into substations by Friday or Saturday, other than the evacuated areas of Gasquet and Patrick’s Creek. The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring a county emergency.

Schools are still without power and the school district has postponed the beginning of school. For more information and to watch the video go to https://fb.watch/mDdPTD_NB5/. The Del Norte Office of Emergency Services posts information about evacuations and resources on Facebook.

Fire crews work to protect structures around Gasquet. (Inciweb/Contributed) 

Lightning Complex

The lightning complex, which includes 12 fires, comprises more than 5,400 acres with 15% containment as of Thursday.

The Lost Fire on Redwoods State and National Parks land continues to sit at 0% containment, burning mostly in second-growth forest that was previously logged. It is 529 acres as of Thursday. A release from the Forest Service notes that crews have held the fire on Holter Ridge.

“A small portion of the fire has slowly spread downslope into old-growth redwood forest, where higher humidity has reduced fire activity,” the release noted. Two other fires are contained.

The Lone Pine fire in the Hoopa area is at 45% containment. The release notes the fire is smoldering with isolated areas of heat and minimal growth.

It’s estimated at 1,678 acres, located east of the Trinity River south of Hoopa in the Horse Linto Creek watershed. Crews are securing containment lines and completing mop-up activities.

The Pearch Fire east of Orleans sits at 981 acres, with crews preparing to complete a burning operation to prevent the westerly spread toward Orleans.

“The Orleans pumphouse has been prepped with structure wrap,” the Forest Service release notes, with more structure protection undergoing around Orleans and in the Pearch Creek neighborhood.

Other fires include a contained, small fire near the Ti-Bar Wildland Fire station, the Hancock Fire at 30 acres located in the Wooley Creek area within the Marble Mountain Wilderness, in difficult terrain and slow spread staffed with smoke jumpers. The Mosquito Fire is at 1,061 acres with crews constructing containment lines. The Bluff #1 fire is at 828 acres with minimal movement. Let er-Buck is at 34 acres.

Some fires go unstaffed due to limited resources including the Blue Creek and Blue Creek 2 fires, the former at 0.1 acre and latter at 318 acres. More resources are gradually arriving.

There are closures in Six Rivers National Forest and Redwood National and State Parks.

Find more information on resources and evacuation advisories related to this fire www.linktr.ee/srffirepio.

South Fork Complex

The South Fork Complex is at 20% containment as of Thursday with the 3-9 Fire being the largest. It is at 1,430 acres and 0% containment. This area too is impacted by the red flag warning with gusts and more lightning in the forecast.

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Deadly Happy Camp Complex fires burn more than 11,000 acres near California-Oregon border

Firefighting efforts for the 3-9 Fire include strengthening the road systems. According to a USFS release, firefighters were able to secure the handline on a 30-acre slop-over from Sunday night on the east side. Lines have been improved upon and containment lines are being worked on in the southeastern perimeter. The release notes that a mobile retardant base has been established in Hyampom and 583 people are working on the fire.

The Pilot Fire is at 913 acres at 26% containment. A USFS release notes that crews have successfully finished constructing handlines along the road on the northeastern flank and contingency lines east of the fire have been completed. “Operational plans for today continue to be secure and mop up the perimeter of the Pilot Fire and finish the contingency line,” the release notes.

The Sulphur Fire is at 95% containment and the Pellitreau Fire is at 100% containment. Resources have been pulled from these fires to address the larger fires as crews mop up and monitor the fire.

Forest closures are posted on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest website home page and on the Six Rivers National Forest website. The Trinity County evacuation site is https://www.arcgis.com/apps/mapviewer/index.html?webmap=d5ce1f3ee0d14cc0a7fb844b7c1ea39a

Happy Camp Complex

More active fire behavior is expected over the Happy Camp Complex on Thursday due to weather conditions.

“The storms are expected to be dry, with less than a tenth of an inch of rain falling. The inversion will lift later (Thursday), and fire activity is expected to pick up on the west side. The east side will become more active later (Thursday) as fuels continue to dry out,” a USFS release notes.

Three fires burned together on the west side Wednesday, with the Canyon, Three Creeks and Elliot fires now to be known as the Elliot Fire. The fire has burned 1,862 acres and is 3% contained.

“(Thursday), crews will focus on mopping up and holding the line along the roads,” the release notes.

The east side of the complex smoldered overnight, with fuels reportedly holding moisture following rains. Thursday they are expected to dry out as humidity drops. Some fires have been contained and resources moved to other fires, including the Townsend, Den and Block fires. The Head Fire is at 13% containment and burns at 6,489 acres. Containment is reportedly increasing as firefighters build lines on all the fires on the east side of the complex.

Sage Alexander can be reached at 707-441-0504