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Big North State Fires Continue to Spread

| August 3, 2014
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The sky over Burney, a town of about 3,500 northeast of Redding, as the nearby Eiler Fire tripled in size on Saturday. (Courtesy Ryan Albaugh)

The sky over Burney, a town of about 3,500 northeast of Redding, as the nearby Eiler Fire tripled in size on Saturday. (Courtesy Ryan Albaugh)

Editor’s note: We’re archiving this post and are doing our active fire updates here: California Fire Update.

Update, Monday 8:25 a.m.: We’re still waiting for updated acreage numbers on the major fires burning in Shasta, Siskiyou and Modoc counties, but cooler, moister, overcast weather looks like it will give firefighters a bit of a break.

But while temperatures are expected to stay in the low to mid-80s throughout much of the region, with lighter winds and higher humidity than over the weekend, the National Weather Service has issued red-flag warnings because of the threat of thunderstorms beginning later this morning. Although scattered rain is forecast, too, the danger posed by the storms is dry lightning — the culprit in the big fires that started across the northern part of California late last week and have blown up into major conflagrations.

We’ll update specific fires later, but here are a couple of other links for Monday morning fire information:

Inciweb: List of California fires in federal jurisdiction
Cal Fire: List of all current incidents (mostly state jurisdiction)

Update, 11:15 p.m. Sunday: The Eiler Fire threatening the eastern Shasta County town of Burney has grown to 25,900 acres, U.S. Forest officials said tonight, and remains completely uncontained. Four communities outside of Burney — Hat Creek, Cassel, Johnson Park and Big Eddy Estate — remain under evacuation orders.

Just a few miles to the northeast, the Bald Fire has grown to 39,600 acres and is at 5 percent containment.

About 1,000 firefighters, including at least one engine crew from the San Francisco Fire Department, were battling the blazes Sunday night. The Redding Record-Searchlight gives a little bit of the flavor of life in Burney, a town of about 3,500, as the fire burned furiously just a few miles away on Sunday:

…Nate Helle, manager of the Alpine Drive Inn in Burney, said late this morning that he was prepared to evacuate if need be, but was serving a lot of meals to customers, including hungry firefighters.

Helle said it was estimated the fire is about five miles away from his Highway 299 East business, and that ash was raining down upon the town.

“It’s raining (ash) pretty good,” he said, noting that most businesses which are usually open on Sunday have closed, not including his business and Safeway..

Still, he said, the presence of numerous fighters, some from as far away as Montana and Southern California, have helped to ease the anxiety of many Burney residents.

“They are not in such a panic,” he said, adding that the community’s fears were much higher Saturday night as the orange glow from the fire crept closer and closer.

The region where the fires are burning is sparsely populated. The only structures reported lost so far: eight homes, a restaurant and 20 other structures burned Saturday in the community of Hat Creek. Craig Harrington, editor of the Intermountain News in Burney, visited the site with Hat Creek volunteer firefighters:

Hat Creek volunteer Fire Chief Randy Garner describes how “in the afternoons the winds come off the hill like a freight train. We had to pull back and protect what we had here (Hat Creek fire station). We saved what we could” before running out of water. Garner watched from another home he was protecting when the fire exploded and consumed the restaurant owned by his parents. The Hat Creek volunteer firefighters were the only ones to stay and offer structure protection, as state fire crews were deployed further north.

San Francisco Fire Department crew at Eiler Fire in Shasta County on Sunday. (Craig Harrington/Intermountain News)

San Francisco Fire Department crew at Eiler Fire in Shasta County on Sunday. (Craig Harrington/Intermountain News)

The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array — a group of 42 satellite dishes set up to scan for signs of extraterrestrial communications — is located just east of Hat Creek. Indications Sunday night were that the fire had burned to within a mile and a half or so of the $30 million-plus facility on Saturday. Harrington said Sunday night the facility is believed to be intact.

A couple of other links for current fire information:

Inciweb: List of California fires in federal jurisdiction
Cal Fire: List of all current incidents (mostly state jurisdiction)

Update, 12:25 p.m. Sunday: The major news today: the two big fires burning in eastern Shasta County have grown dramatically since the last acreage figures were released Saturday morning.

Lassen National Forest officials report the Eiler Fire, which has advanced to within about four miles of the town of Burney, has burned nearly 23,000 acres, up from 7,000 a day earlier, and it’s still reported to be 0 percent contained. Residents of several communities near Burney have been ordered to leave their homes, and the Shasta County sheriff notified people in the town itself that an evacuation may be ordered. Bulldozers were brought in Saturday night to clear a fire line between the town and the blaze.

Just to the northeast, the Bald Fire has burned about 35,000 acres, up from the 22,000 reported early Saturday. That blaze, which is 5 percent contained, prompted evacuations in the Little Valley area of northwestern Lassen County.

The best and most immediate local news coverage of the fire is coming from the Intermountain News in Burney, which is carrying full details on evacuations in the area. Those evacuations include patients from a local hospital who were moved Sunday morning to a facility in Redding. The Intermountain News has also uploaded a series of good videos on the Eiler and Day fires (the latter has burned 12,850 acres in southwestern Modoc County, led to mandatory evacuations of a the Lookout Ranchettes community, and is 25 percent contained.).

Other major fires burning Sunday:

  • Oregon Gulch (Siskiyou County): Burning on the California-Oregon border east of Interstate 5 and about 20 miles southeast of Ashland. The fire has burned roughly 32,000 acres, including 9,000 in California, and is 10 percent contained.
  • Beaver Fire (Siskiyou County): Burning west of Interstate 5, just south of the Oregon border and about 20 miles northwest of Yreka. Rapidly growing fire has prompted evacuation advisories and is 1 percent contained.
  • The July Complex (Siskiyou County): A group of fires burning in mountainous terrain about 40 miles west of Mount Shasta. The fires have burned a total of 5,500 acres and are uncontained.
  • The Lodge Lightning Complex (Mendocino County): Burning northwest of Laytonville. Has consumed about 2,200 acres with 10 percent containment.
  • The El Portal Fire, in Yosemite National Park, is holding steady at 4,689 acres. It’s reported to be 89 percent contained. The cause is still under investigation.
  • The French Fire, in Sierra National Forest on the upper San Joaquin River, has burned 12,827 acres and is reported 20 percent contained. Officials say the fire was caused by an abandoned campfire.

(At right, below: Map of the Northern California fires by way of WildlandFires.com.)

Update, 12:20 a.m. Sunday: Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and ordered a further mobilization of the National Guard to respond to a series of large, rapidly spreading wildfires in Northern California.

The governor’s office also announced the state has secured federal grants to help fight the fires and that California will seek firefighting aid from neighboring states.

The two biggest incidents Saturday night are the Eiler and Bald fires, burning in the mountains northeast of Redding. The Bald Fire ws sparked by lightning; the cause of the Eiler Fire is officially unknown.

The Eiler fire has burned about 7,000 acres and reportedly destroyed some structures, including a business and several residences, in the community of Hat Creek. It’s 0 percent contained. Concern over the rapid spread of the fire prompted Shasta County officials to issue an evacuation advisory for the town of Burney, a community of about 3,500. Residents of two nearby developments, Johnson Park and Big Eddy Estates, were ordered to clear out.

The Bald Fire has burned about 26,000 acres and is reported to be 5 percent contained.

Earlier fire news below:

Update, 5:15 p.m. Saturday: The biggest challenge for state and federal firefighting agencies is now focused in northern and northeastern California, where several big blazes continue to spread virtually uncontained.

The Eiler Fire, a lightning-caused blaze burning in eastern Shasta County about 50 miles northeast of Redding, blew up Friday and had consumed more than 7,000 acres by Saturday morning. The rapidly moving fire burned across Highway 89 near the community of Hat Creek, forcing the evacuation of some homes in the area. It also prompted the closure of a 20-mile section of Highway 89 from the junction of Highway 44 north to the junction of Highway 299.

Hat Creek is well known as a fly-fishing destination. The community is also home to the Allen Telescope Array, a joint project by the SETI Institute and and the University of California’s Hat Creek Radio Observatory that scans the universe for signs of extraterrestrial communications.

Screen capture from Allen  Telescope Array web cam as Eiler Fire burned close to the facility Saturday.

Screen capture from Allen Telescope Array web cam as Eiler Fire burned close to the facility Saturday.

Susie Jorgensen, site manager for the radio observatory, said late Saturday afternoon it was unknown how close the Eiler Fire has burned to the array of 42 radio telescope dishes. Live images from a web cam at the facility showed heavy smoke in the area at the time.

A second, larger fire is burning to the northeast of the Eiler blaze. The Bald Fire, southeast of the town of Fall River Mills, had burned about 18,000 acres on the border and Shasta and Lassen counties by early Saturday and prompted authorities to order evacuations in a rural community called Little Valley.

To the north of the the Bald (5 percent contained) and Eiler (0 percent contained) blazes, the Day Fire continued to spread in Modoc County. That fire, which has burned 12,500 acres and reportedly threatens 200 residences, is 15 percent contained.

Firefighters are also responding to several clusters of lightning-sparked fires in the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity national forests and to a complex of fires in Mendocino County.

Elsewhere:

  • The El Portal Fire, in Yosemite National Park, is now reported to have burned 4,689 acres. It’s reported to be 78 percent contained, but is still moving north toward Highway 120, the main route into the park from the Bay Area. Evacuation orders for the community of Foresta have been lifted.
  • The French Fire, in Sierra National Forest on the upper San Joaquin River, has burned 11,466 acres and is reported 15 percent contained.

Update, 3:40 p.m. Friday: The most active front in California’s increasingly active fire season has shifted to far Northern California, where lightning has sparked dozens of blazes, including several big ones.

Lightning touches off dozens of fires in Northern California, prompting request for National Guard help.

Responding to a request from the California Office of Emergency Services, the National Guard is sending 17 helicopters to help fight fires scattered from the Coast Range and Trinity Alps through the Siskiyou Range into the state’s northeastern corner.

The helicopters include 14 Blackhawks and Chinooks equipped with buckets to drop water on fires, as well as three Lakota choppers that use near real-time video and infrared gear to monitor fires for crews on the ground. About 60 National Guard personnel have been assigned to staff the firefighting missions.

Klamath National Forest officials report that on Tuesday and Wednesday, 955 lightning strikes were recorded in Siskiyou County, the northernmost California county along Interstate 5. The lightning has resulted in more than two dozen fires. The biggest in that group are the Whites Fire, which has burned 1,300 acres in the mountains 40 miles west of Mount Shasta, and the Oregon Gulch Fire, which has burned into California after starting in the mountains east of Ashland, Oregon. The blaze is burning in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and has burned about 10,000 acres in Oregon and 1,000 so far in California.

To the east and south, two other major blazes were spreading fast on Friday afternoon:

The Day Fire, in Modoc County about 20 miles west of the town of Adin, has burned about 7,000 acres and is just 5 percent contained. Cal Fire says the blaze threatens 200 structures near the rural community of Day and has ordered residents of the area to evacuate their homes.

The Bald Fire, burning about 8 miles south of Fall River Mills in northeastern Shasta County, has consumed about 3,100 acres of heavy timber and brush. Fire officials say it has “extreme” potential for growth. Crews have been dispatched to the fire, which is entirely uncontained.

Elsewhere: The El Portal Fire burning on the western fringe of Yosemite National Park is at 4,198 acres (up from 3,900 on Thursday) and is 58 percent contained. The French Fire, in Sierra National Forest northeast of Fresno, has now burned 8,200 acres and is 15 percent contained. Authorities ordered the evacuation of a rural community, Arnold Meadow, as the fire moves north toward the Mammoth Pools Reservoir.

Update, 4:45 p.m. Thursday: Today’s developments on major fires burning in California:

The El Portal Fire, burning on the western border of Yosemite National Park: Officials say the fire has grown to 3,900 acres and, like Wednesday, is about 35 percent contained. The Big Oak Flat Road, which connects Highway 120 to the Yosemite Valley has been reopened.

The French Fire, burning in the Sierra National Forest along the upper San Joaquin River: The blaze has grown to 7,000 acres. About 1,000 firefighters are on the lines and have achieved 10 percent containment.

The Sand Fire, which broke out last Friday near the Mother Lode town of Plymouth, is 95 percent contained. The fire covered 4,240 acres and burned 19 residences.

Update, 1:50 p.m. Wednesday: The updated numbers on the El Portal Fire on the western border of Yosemite National Park: Roughly 3,500 acres burned and roughly 35 percent containment.

Ranger Cari Cobb, spokeswoman for the park, said the fire has been moving north, toward Big Oak Flat Road. About 60 homes in Foresta, mostly the residences of park employees, remain evacuated. Two homes in Foresta were destroyed soon after the fire started last Saturday.

Big Oak Flat Road remains closed from the junction with Highway 120 down to Highway 140. That means there’s no access from Highway 120 to Yosemite Valley, though the route remains open into the high country — past White Wolf campground, Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, and across Tioga Pass to U.S. 395.

The closure of Big Oak Flat Road also means there’s no immediate access from Yosemite Valley to those high country locations.

In other Wednesday fire news:

  • The Sand Fire, burning in Amador County near the town of Plymouth, has grown to 4,240 acres. The fire began last Friday afternoon and has destroyed 19 homes and 47 outbuildings. Cal Fire says the blaze is 90 percent contained, with full containment expected by Saturday.
  • The French Fire, burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno, has grown to 5,600 acres from 2,000 on Monday. The fire, which was first spotted at daybreak Monday, has prompted the closure of parts of Minarets Road, a scenic byway in Sierra National Forest.

Update, 12:30 p.m. Tuesday: Yosemite National Park officials say crews have made progress containing a fire just west of one of the park’s main entrances. The El Portal Fire is now reported to have burned nearly 3,100 acres — up from 2,600 acres on Monday.

The fire is now 19 percent contained, compared with 5 percent on Monday. About 600 firefighters are on the lines. Big Oak Flat Road, the route from Highway 120 into Yosemite Valley, remains closed (while Highway 120 itself remains open). The upshot: Bay Area travelers headed to the valley still need to detour to Highway 140, through Merced and Mariposa.

In other Tuesday fire news:

  • The Sand Fire, near Plymouth in Amador County, has burned 4,240 acres. It’s now 85 percent contained, Cal Fire says.
  • The French Fire, burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno, has grown to 2,000 acres from 500 on Monday. The fire has prompted the closure of parts of Minarets Road, a scenic byway in Sierra National Forest.

Update, 3 p.m. Monday: Yosemite National Park officials say that a fire that broke out Saturday near the community of El Portal has grown to 2,600 acres and it is still just 5 percent contained.

The fire has prompted residents to evacuate homes in El Portal and the nearby community of Foresta. One residence in Foresta has reportedly burned, and fire crews have been assigned to protect structures immediately threatened by the blaze.

Three campgrounds are closed to the public because of the fire: Crane Flat, Yosemite Creek and Bridalveil Creek.

Highway 120, the main route to Yosemite from the Bay Area, remains open through the park. But Big Oak Flat Road is closed for a 9-mile stretch from Highway 120 to Highway 140 just west of Yosemite Valley. That means Bay Area travelers trying to get to the valley will need to take Highway 140, the route through Merced and Mariposa.

Separately:

  • Cal Fire says the Sand Fire, burning near the Amador County town of Plymouth, remains at 65 percent containment. The fire has burned 3,800 acres and destroyed 13 residences. About 2,000 firefighters are working on the blaze.
  • The U.S. Forest Service says the French Fire, which started near the upper San Joaquin River in the mountains northeast of Fresno early Monday, had burned about 500 acres as of early afternoon.

Earlier Post:

Associated Press

PLYMOUTH, Amador County — Fire officials are optimistic they may soon get the upper hand on a wildfire burning near vineyards in the Mother Lode east of Sacramento that has led to evacuation orders for more about 1,200 people. Meanwhile, a fire burning just west of Yosemite National Park is limiting access to Yosemite Valley via Highway 120, principal route to the park from the San Francisco Bay Area (see details below).

After growing rapidly since it began on Friday, crews were able to hold the Sand Fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento to about 3,800 acres overnight. Containment, meanwhile, increased 15 percent, to 65 percent.

The fire has destroyed 13 homes and 38 other structures, as it burns in rugged grassland and timber near wine-growing regions in Amador and El Dorado counties. About 450 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. The fire started Friday when a vehicle drove over vegetation that is tinder-dry from years of drought.

State fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean said Monday morning fire crews are still wary, however, with another day of possible triple-digit temperatures expected.

About 1,900 firefighters, aided by aircraft including a DC-10 air tanker, are working to control the blaze.

The Amador County fairgrounds made room for displaced animals and as of noon Sunday had taken in 12 horses, seven rabbits, 15 chickens, two dogs, three cats and seven goats, said Karen Spencer, the marketing director for the Amador County Fair.

“We’re right in the middle of our fair, but our livestock people are just moving over and making room,” she told the Sacramento Bee.

Also Monday, crews continued to battle a fire near the communities of El Portal and Foresta, just west of Yosemite National Park and south of the area burned by last year’s Rim Fire. The fire had burned about 2,100 acres as of Sunday night, destroying one home in Foresta and forcing the evacuation of about 100 others in the area.

The park itself remains open, though the Crane Flat Campground is closed, as is Big Oak Flat Road between Crane Flat and the El Portal Road junction. That road closure means there is no access to Yosemite Valley via Highway 120, the main route to the park from the Bay Area.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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