By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
A degree of normalcy returned to Del Norte County over the weekend as Gasquet residents went home and forest fires came under control.
The Biscuit Fire, which scorched 28,680 acres in California since it entered the state on July 27, was 90 percent contained yesterday with only one hot spot remaining.
"The area that's burning now is pretty much just smoldering there's not a lot of open flames," said Tom Rhode, fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "They began some back fires (Sunday) at 8:30 a.m. at the hot spot and made good progress."
Among a sea of dwindling tents, firefighter Dave Malpas, of Coconino State Park, Ariz., relaxed inside his tent yesterday at the command center outside Del Norte County High School in Crescent City.
"We're probably going to hold out here," Malpas said when asked if he expects to be transferred to Oregon. "Our 14 days are nearly up here and we'll be going home soon ... although it's nice and cool up here. I wouldn't mind staying."
The steadily decreasing northeast winds aided firefighters over the weekend, although high temperatures and low humidity inland continue to be a problem, Rhode said. Full containment of the California portion of the fire is expected by Thursday.
The mercury climbed to the upper 90s on Monday with only a slight breeze in early afternoon. Gasquet resident Stan Bellatti, who has lived in the community for 32 years, said the weather has been unusual this summer.
"We don't usually get this many hot days all at once," said Bellatti as he cleared part of his front yard for a wider driveway. "Maybe two or three days in a row you'd have weather like this. It seems like the smoke is holding the heat in."
Bellatti said he spent two nights in Crescent City with his daughter after being ordered to evacuate Thursday night.
"A CHP (California Highway Patrol) officer stopped by and said to my wife, Could you be out of here in half an hour?' She said, "Do we have to go?' And he said,' Yes, you have to go,'" Bellatti said. "We decided we'd better heed that guy's advice."
Red Cross volunteers, stocked heavily with food and cold drinks, appeared lonely outside the American Legion Hall yesterday.
"There hasn't been a lot of people by here today. We had a bit more (Sunday)," said volunteer Al Velarde. "We don't know how much longer we're going to be here they keep us in the dark a lot."
Dick Carroll said he doesn't believe the group's headquarters gives the volunteers much information to curtail the spread of rumors.
"Our orders are all based on information from the national office," said Carroll. "If the county and the Forest Service feel they don't need us anymore, we'll be good to go. But your local chapter responded very well to this emergency. You should be proud of them."
Emergency crews north of the border were in greater demand yesterday as the Biscuit Fire, renamed from the Florence Fire, became the largest forest fire in Oregon's recorded history.
Several hot spots on the northern and western boundaries have prompted pre-evacuation alerts, the latest being along the Upper Pistol River drainage yesterday morning.
The fire reportedly jumped containment lines at Snow Camp Mountain and Quail Prairie Mountain. Two community meetings were scheduled yesterday in Brookings and Agness to update residents on the fire's progress.