June 21, 2024
Governor Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for the complex Tuesday, following a similar declaration from county officials on Aug. 18. The complex is at 7% containment. 

The Smith River Complex will see rainfall this weekend, but not before “near critical fire weather conditions” expected to play out Wednesday with gusts of north winds blowing over the now 75,000-acre group of fires impacting Del Norte County.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for the complex Tuesday, following a similar declaration from county officials on Aug. 18. The complex is at 7% containment.

One area of concern for firefighting near the town of Gasquet is between state Route 199 and French Hill Road. These areas have been evacuated.

“That’s where the firefighters have been focused in for the last two days,” said Ryan Berlin, a spokesperson for the Smith River Complex. A handline in the “very rugged” terrain is being worked on with hopes of reinforcing the area before winds will come in.

But other than this area, “It’s looking really good for the town of Gasquet,” said Berlin, with the fire progress slowed down as of Wednesday.

The National Weather Office is expecting periods of gusty north winds on Wednesday and the winds becoming more westerly going into Thursday. This is a period of “near critical fire weather conditions” especially in high-elevation areas. Smoke continues to impact people in Del Norte County, with Gasquet and Crescent City seeing levels of unhealthy and hazardous air quality, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District. Two clean-air shelters have been opened in the area.

But better conditions are in the forecast, according to meteorologists; starting Friday, periods of light rain are expected across the region.

“That showery regime, that will really help with reducing that fire activity,” said Jonathan Garner, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Eureka.

With the rain, there could be a few embedded thunderstorms, especially over the interior mountains. But Garner said the threat of new fire starts is low because it will be cool and humid. The fires impacting Northern California were sparked by a period of dry lightning that moved across the region.

Out of the Smith River Complex, the greatest threat to homes has been in the small town of Gasquet, with firefighting efforts focusing on structure preparation for days now. Over 2,700 personnel are fighting these fires, the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services noted.

Lines south of state Route 199 near French Hill Road “continue to hold and the threat of fire reaching Gasquet continues to decrease each day,” the release noted, adding that falling trees and other work along the highway was done to expedite opening the road.

A tentative plan for limited openings of state Route 199 was postponed Friday when fire activity in southern Oregon swelled. It’s unclear when the highway will reopen.

A sawyer carries his chainsaw along a fire line west of Gilligan Butte on Aug. 26. He and other firefighters are building fire lines and removing fuels adjacent to the lines north of the Kelly Fire, southwest of O’Brien. (Inciweb) 

The Kelly Fire, which absorbed the Holiday Fire, is also close to connecting to the Coon Fire, according to a U.S. Forest Service release. A line was challenged a few days ago because of winds.

The Del Norte Office of Emergency Services noted all power in the county is restored, other than Gasquet and Patrick Creek (areas that continue to be evacuated). Pacific Power installed industrial generators after residents went without power.

The smoke blown into Eureka on Wednesday came from any fire to the north, including Oregon and the Smith River Complex, said Garner. Air quality was moderate to unhealthy Wednesday in Eureka, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

For evacuation notices and community resources, follow the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DelNorteOfficeOfEmergencyServices. For updated fire information, go to https://inciweb.wildfire.gov.

South Fork Complex

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Two new zones were recently noticed of an evacuation warning in Humboldt County because of the South Fork Complex. The area north and south of Henry Ridge and north and east of the Mad River were added to the “be ready” status of evacuation.

“Anyone in these areas should be prepared for potential evacuations, including personal supplies and overnight accommodations. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice,” a Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services post notes.

The 3-9 fire is the least contained fire out of the complex, with a U.S. Forest Service news release from Wednesday noting the fire is at 2,427 acres at 22% contained.

“Yesterday, in the southern division (Division A), a 400-acre slop-over crossed over the dozer line and contingency line as the fire was in alignment with the wind and topography,” the release notes.

The north side of the fire has a 100% hand line completed around the perimeter and work is being done to expand this line, according to the release. Other fires in the complex are contained, with mop-up activities underway. An estimated 850 personnel are working on the complex and it is 45% contained.

Go to https://protect.genasys.com/search to find specific information about evacuation zones. For more information, go to humboldtsheriff.org/emergency, or call 707-268-2500.

Lightning complex

Six Rivers National Forest no new evacuation orders have been issued. Two zones continue to hover at the “get ready” evacuation warning for the town of Orleans.

The Pearch Fire, located east of Orleans, is at 3,466 acres.

“Crews have completed the firing operation along the southern edge to Drop Point 14. Aerial controlled firing operations utilizing an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) began today to increase lines north from DP 14 to DP11.” a release from the USFS notes. Hose line and sprinklers have been deployed around values at risk. Structure Assessment Teams have been assessing structures for structure protection in the Somes Bar area.

Other fires in the Redwoods State and National parks are being addressed and firefighting has made progress. Some wildfires are unstaffed due to difficult terrain and firefighter safety. In the Hoopa Area, the Lone Pine fire is now 90% contained, at 1,684 acres.

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