Wildland fires char northeastern corner of California

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 8:03 am

QUINCY – Strong winds and remote, steep terrain are driving a series of wildland fires that have charred a total of more than 61,000 acres in California's northeastern corner.

The Chips fire is burning from the Feather River Canyon north into a rugged and unroaded area near Lake Almanor.

Smoke is blowing into the Sacramento Valley and has been thick enough locally to prompt a health advisory issued by Val Armisen, Plumas County public health officer.

Started July 29 along the Pacific Crest Trail near Belden, the fire has burned more than 18,000 acres and is not expected to be contained within fire lines until Aug. 21, said Robin Vora, a fire information officer.

In addition to about 25 homes in the Feather River Canyon, the Chips fire is threatening two 60,000-volt electrical transmission lines that serve Quincy and several other communities.

Anticipating the worst, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has rented three utility-scale mobile generators and is trucking them to the Quincy area, where backup generators will power local substations. The generators should be in place and ready to operate by Friday, said Paul Moreno, a company spokesman.

Traffic through the Feather River Canyon is subject to controls depending on the fire behavior, Vora said. Caribou Road along the north fork of the river is closed, as are Forest Service and PG&E campgrounds at Caribou, Butt Lake and Humbug Valley.

About 60 miles north of the Chips fire, a lightning-sparked blaze burning in Lassen Volcanic National Park has blackened more than 2,000 acres as it moves toward the park boundary 10 miles south of Old Station.

Started July 23, park officials allowed the Reading fire to creep along the ground and smolder as a natural part of the ecosystem, said Darlene M. Koontz, Lassen Park superintendent. On Tuesday, when winds picked up and created several hot spots across the park road, a team of firefighters moved in to manage the blaze.

In addition to numerous trails in the central portion of the park, Highway 89 through Lassen Park is closed from Crags Campground to Summit Lake.

The largest of the north state's wildland fires is a 41,000-acre blaze east of Eagleville in Modoc County.

The Lost fire, started Sunday by lightning, is burning through habitat critical for sage grouse, wild horses and other wildlife, said Jeff Fontana, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Land Management in Susanville.

The fire crossed State Route 34 on Tuesday, burning northeast into the National Conservation Area.

A large air tanker dropped several loads of fire retardant to successfully steer the flames away from a major power transmission line, he said.

Officials expect to contain the Lost fire by Sunday, Fontana said.

The combined cost of suppressing the three active fires is estimated at more than $6.5 million, federal officials said.

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Read more articles by Jane Braxton Little

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