Plumas County fire forces evacuations from Feather River Canyon

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 - 9:36 am

QUINCY – A stubborn, 2-week-old wildfire continued to rage out of control Monday, forcing some residents in the Feather River Canyon to evacuate while others around the south end of Lake Almanor are under voluntary evacuation orders.

The Chips fire has charred 35,800 acres between Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon and Butt Lake, around three miles south of Lake Almanor.

The fire, which started July 29 along the Pacific Crest Trail near Belden, has left western Plumas County under a pall of smoke – some of it visible in the Sacramento Valley – with ashes raining down in an eerie light that only occasionally revealed a blood-red sun.

Plumas County health officials reissued a smoke advisory Monday, calling the conditions generally unhealthy.

"It's just a nasty dirty fire that crawls around and puts up smoke – real thick and close to the ground," said Steve Kliest, a fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

Monday, however, did not produce last week's strong winds, which fanned the fire near Mosquito Creek southwest of Butt Lake and added 10,000 acres to its total.

Crews worked through the night Sunday to burn out fuels ahead of an active fire front southwest of Humbug Valley in an effort to hold the flames south of the Humbug Road.

They made progress containing a tongue of the fire that crossed the Feather River's north fork near Caribou and was moving up the slopes of Red Hill, a former lookout two miles northeast of Belden.

The primary concern Monday was the northeastern arm of the fire, which reached the western edge of Butt Lake and was threatening to start spot fires as far as a mile ahead of the main flank. The goal was to make the reservoir part of the containment line and keep the fire from hooking around the north end of the reservoir toward Lake Almanor and Ohio Valley, said Kliest.

The danger of spot fires prompted Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood to advise residents along a 10-mile stretch of Highway 89, from Canyondam to Almanor West, to begin preparing to evacuate. Late on Monday, as the fire moved up the north fork of the Feather River, he changed the advisory to a voluntary evacuation for Canyondam, Big Meadows and Rocky Point Campground.

Monday did not bring the extreme fire behavior of late last week but by today "it might be back to the races," said Richard Hadley, a fire information officer.

Last week, Hagwood ordered residents between Highway 70 and Butt Lake, Seneca and the Humbug-Humbolt areas to evacuate. The fire is threatening around 600 residences, four commercial and 36 outbuildings, said Kliest.

The blaze also continued to threaten Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power transmission lines in the Feather River Canyon. On Friday utility company officials de-energized the line as a public safety and precautionary measure, said Paul Moreno, a company spokesman. That left large parts of Plumas County in the dark for several hours.

PG&E teams staged in Quincy have seven mobile generators in place to provide backup power but have no plans to repeat Friday's intentional power shutoff, Moreno said.

Meanwhile, a number of other fires continue to burn in the north state:

• A fire sparked by lightning in Lassen Volcanic National Park grew to 21,000 acres, burning northwest toward Old Station and the Hat Creek drainage.

Highway 89 through the park is closed from just past Manzanita Lake south to Summit Lake.

The south entrance to the park is open but many trails and the campground north of Summit Lake are closed, said Park Superintendent Darlene M. Koontz.

The Reading fire, which started July 23, is 10 percent contained. Firefighters expect to have it completely contained by next Tuesday.

• A new fire sparked Sunday evening by lightning has burned 6,000 acres of high desert rangeland about 30 miles northeast of Susanville.

The Rush fire is burning near Rush Creek Mountain within a Bureau of Land Management wilderness study area and is not threatening structures, said Jeff Fontana, a BLM spokesman in Susanville. The fire is burning grass, brush and juniper, affecting habitat for greater sage-grouse, mule deer and other wildlife.

Firefighters moved to the Rush fire from northwestern Nevada, where they contained the 2-week-old Lost fire at 61,000 acres. Fire crews also contained another lightning-caused fire Sunday near the Marr Ranch close to the Rush fire. It burned about 200 acres, Fontana said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Jane Braxton Little



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