Fires

Cooler, showery weather helps firefighters battling Rough fire

Capt. Greg Ver of the National Park Service-Grant Grove Engine 51 talks Monday about his crew’s working to patrol and put out spot fires caused by the Rough fire .
Capt. Greg Ver of the National Park Service-Grant Grove Engine 51 talks Monday about his crew’s working to patrol and put out spot fires caused by the Rough fire . ezamora@fresnobee.com

A steady drizzle of rain that fell across Sierra and Sequoia national forests and into Kings Canyon on Monday brought much-needed relief for firefighters battling Fresno County’s largest-ever wildfire.

The light rain, which fell most of the morning and into early afternoon, kept dust down while lower temperatures allowed firefighters to change tactics, said John Nichols, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

The weather allowed firefighters to directly attack the 138,053-acre blaze instead of from afar with controlled fire lines, which is how most of the blaze has been corralled over the last several weeks, he said.

Containment grew to 40 percent Monday as 3,229 firefighters worked to keep the Rough fire east of Fresno from spreading. The blaze continues to burn west toward Pine Flat Reservoir and the Kings River.

“Every bit of moisture helps,” Nichols said. “It doesn’t change the pace of the efforts. It changes the ability to be more effective.”

It’s the kind of rain that once it stops, and if it gets any sunlight, and low humidity, it will dry up again. But it’s an encouragement because we know we’re moving into that time of year when we see this kind of weather.

John Nichols, Rough fire public information officer

The fire, started by a lightning strike July 31, has become the largest wildfire in Fresno County history, according to Cal Fire, and one of the state’s 20 largest. It is the biggest fire burning now in California.

Crews continue to patrol the Grant Grove area, where some fire came through the loop over the weekend but spared the General Grant tree – the second-largest tree in the world. Firefighters were able to go in directly and use water and hand tools to protect the area, Nichols said.

“We will still patrol it and keep an eye on it, but the fire hazard has been reduced or eliminated,” he said.

Structure-defense crews remain around residential areas including Sequoia Lake, Hume Lake and Cedar Grove, where fire lines are holding well.

At midday Monday, the rainfall was spread from Bakersfield to Merced and as far east as Mammoth Lakes. Christine Riley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford, said .02 inches of precipitation had fallen on the blaze and more moisture was expected through Tuesday.

Today is a day that I’m sure out there on the line, firefighters are getting some relief. They’re doing the same work they did yesterday, but a lot more comfortably.

John Nichols, Rough fire public information officer

The temperature Monday hit a high of 82 degrees – about 16 degrees cooler than Sunday.

Wind was not a factor Monday.

“What often happens this time of the year is you’ll get storm systems move in that bring in winds and stuff like that,” Nichols said. “The wind is the thing that plays havoc with you. There’s nothing you can do if you get high winds.”

Meanwhile, a dozen California Conservation Corps members from Fresno were sent to help battle the Valley fire in Lake County. They were assigned to the Lake County Fairgrounds and will help support Cal Fire crews with logistics.

Staff writer Jim Guy contributed to this report. BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee

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