By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Fueled by strong winds and low humidity, the Sour-Biscuit Fire raged across the California-Oregon border into Del Norte County Saturday causing evacuations and road closures.
As of late yesterday, county officials were saying no buildings or homes have been lost and no injuries were reported.
Residents on Low Divide Road were evacuated Sunday night and several roads were closed as the Biscuit Fire threatened the area. A second fire, called the Shelley Creek Fire, caused the evacuation of Bar-O-Boys Ranch juvenile detention facility and patrons from Patrick Creek Lodge.
Mike Lococo, intelligence officer with the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Operations in Redding, said there is good and bad news on the two fronts.
"The Shelley Creek Fire burned approximately 90 acres. The cause of the fire is under investigation," Lococo said. Commander Tony Luis of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department said juveniles from the Bar-O-Boys Ranch were transferred Sunday night to the Del Norte County Juvenile Hall.
"The Sour-Biscuit Fire is still moving south, and if the winds hold the way they are now, I think this fire is going to be around for a while," said Lococo.
Lococo said the Sour-Biscuit Fire has consumed 15,360 acres in California and has advanced approximately seven to 10 miles from Oregon since Saturday. Matt Stevens of the U.S. Forest Service said yesterday afternoon that one fire boundary was as close as four and a-half miles north of Gasquet.
Road closures include Low Divide Road at Rowdy Creek Road and at Highway 197, and Highway 199 between Patrick Creek Lodge and the state line. Only local residents with identification can travel on Highway 199 between Highway 197 and Patrick Creek Lodge, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The extent of the fire into Del Norte County involved some guesswork yesterday afternoon because smoke and wind prevented close observations.
"The smoke is extensive ... We couldn't get our planes in for infrared photographs because of all the turbulence from the Florence and Biscuit fires," said Lococo.
The same huge plume of reddish-orange smoke stretched out over Crescent City, Smith River and Fort Dick during the weekend, blotting out the sun and leaving behind a layer of ash on streets and cars. Ash from the fire was reported as far south as Eureka and well into southern Oregon.
Dave Soroka, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka said favorable weather conditions slowed the fire's advance southward on Monday but this may be changing.
"The moisture level is much higher today than Sunday," Soroka said yesterday. "We had a 19 percent relative humidity on Sunday and it was breezier, compared to 57 percent humidity now." He said there will probably be a greater danger in the higher elevations. A marine layer, that normally has a ceiling of about 1,000 feet this time of year, will keep humidity high and winds minimal in the canyons and along the coast. Above the marine layer, temperatures are greater, humidity is lower and winds are stronger.
"It's definitely better below the marine layer. It's a matter of time really," Lococo said about the weather. "We'll have to wait it out for a couple of days and see how it goes."
Soroka said the current weather pattern, with intermittent 5- to 15-mph northerly winds, is expected to continue through the remainder of the week.
About 400 firefighters are currently battling the blaze with more personnel and equipment on the way.
On the Oregon side of the state line, residents in Cave Junction, Agness, Illahee, Oak Flat, Selma and O'Brien were told to be on standby for evacuation. Highway 199 is closed south to the California border.
(This story will be updated intermittently as major developments occur.)