July 23, 2024
Fires in upper elevations on the complex saw higher winds Wednesday into the evening, causing the Kelly Fire to merge with the Coon Fire.

The Smith River Complex has now grown to 83,974 acres in Del Norte County and southern Oregon. Following a gusty 24 hours, firefighting efforts will be aided by some higher humidity and forecasted rain on the complex in the coming days, which is made up of at least 12 fires sparked by lightning more than two weeks ago. The complex is 8% contained.

Fires in upper elevations on the complex saw higher winds Wednesday into the evening, causing the Kelly Fire to merge with the Coon Fire. Many of the fires in Northern California are in difficult steep terrain, and officials noted the notoriously rugged environment of the dense woods in Six Rivers National Forest where the fires burn.

Map: Two wildfires merge in Northern California’s Smith River complex 

As for the northern part of the complex that has entered Oregon, “winds out of the northeast have been pushing the fire back on itself the past several days but are expected to shift again this weekend and come from the southwest,” an Inciweb report states. It notes while cooler weather and rain are predicted, it will not be sufficient to extinguish the fire. One area has been evacuated in Oregon along with warnings for nearby settlements. The release notes that efforts from the Oregon State Fire Marshal are being made to prep structures. Over 3,000 personnel are working on the complex.

The town most threatened in the south of the complex is Gasquet, which was ordered to be evacuated Aug. 20. Officials have noted the threat is decreasing as containment lines are built. Structure prep has been ongoing around homes and control lines are being staffed, a release notes.

“Although there is still active fire above Gasquet, it remains on the eastside of the North Fork Smith River,” a U.S. Forest Service news release on the complex noted.

State Route 199 continues to be closed to most traffic, but it opened Thursday evening for commercial traffic only — something that will be allowed 24 hours a day until the highway fully reopens to all traffic. No opening date for the highway is set. A planned controlled temporary opening was postponed due to fire activity. California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Del Norte County on Tuesday.

Some slight precipitation is in the forecast for Thursday, noted Inciweb, with an increase in cloud cover and humidity. Strong gusts are expected over ridgetops along the northwest and southeast sides of the fire in the early morning hours.

Crescent City was in the moderate category of air quality as of Thursday, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District. Gasquet continues to be unhealthy. Two clean-air shelters have been opened in the area. Schools have been postponed as a result of fires and smoke. Efforts to restore power to Del Norte County were successful after industrial generators were added to the grid, with the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services noting in a post that all power in the county is restored other than in Gasquet and Patrick Creek.

Go to https://rvem.org for evacuations in Oregon and the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DelNorteOfficeOfEmergencyServices for community resources and events.

A community meeting for the Smith River Complex southern portion is set for Friday at 6 p.m. It will be at the Del Norte Fairgrounds, Arts and Crafts Building, 421 U.S. Highway 101 in Crescent City. A live stream will be hosted on the Six Rivers National Forest Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SixRiversNF.

Lightning Complex

A burning operation Wednesday near the town of Orleans, threatened by the Pearch fire of the Lightning Complex in Humboldt County, was “very successful” said Dennis Burns in a morning briefing Thursday.

The efforts to bring a part of the fire on the eastern side slowly to a controlled line near the town. These efforts went through the night, taking advantage of the opportunity to burn off fuels before oncoming moisture.

Burns said a drone was used to drop spheres of ignition devices and hand firing was conducted to take out surface fuels to limit the ability of the fire to run down to Orleans.

“We’re going slow to go fast,” he said.

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He also noted a night shift is keeping an eye on on the fires because of the steep terrain, though they are not expecting significant events. Two zones near Orleans are under evacuation warnings. Structure prep is expected to be completed Thursday along Salmon Road, east and north of the fire where homes are located. Air quality in Orleans continues to be unhealthy.

Other fires in the complex prompted a new evacuation warning in Siskiyou County.

Cal Fire noted in a press release that agencies have been inundated with calls on emergency and non-emergency lines about general “drift” smoke or to ask about smoke conditions.

“The CAL FIRE Humboldt – Del Norte Unit requests the public refrain from calling 911 to report a fire emergency unless a smoke column or flames are visible,” noted Jeremy Ward, battalion chief in an email.

Smoke conditions can be viewed at National Weather Service site.

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