By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Patrick Creek Lodge was fighting for its life yesterday even as it served as a base for frontline Del Norte County firefighting crews.
"As of 11:30 a.m., we're still standing and alive and well," said owner Bill Grier as he moved irrigation pipes to the threatened side of his property. "Who knows where we'll be later we could be gone in a heartbeat."
The historic lodge, located on Highway 199 in the Smith River canyon, is less than a mile from the growing Shelley Creek Fire. The much larger, but slower-moving Sour-Biscuit Fire is burning about five miles to the northeast.
"That tall tree up there flared up last night," Bill Grier said as he pointed to a blackened trunk 600 yards uphill from the lodge. "We had people here watering down the roof. I tell you, it almost brings tears to my eyes with the concern we've received. It's something that has left Cindy and I speechless. We're so remote here we don't realize people are thinking of us. They've been phenomenal."
The lodge marks the place where emergency personnel closed Highway 199 to through traffic. Less than two miles to the east, huge pillars of smoke rise from the hillsides and trees explode in flames.
Yesterday, Bill Grier prepared irrigation lines on the east side of the lodge to soak the dry underbrush while fire crews emptied timber from a storage building at the rear of the property.
Firefighters at the lodge burned off dry brush immediately east of the lodge to create a firebreak, a measure that should offer the inn and restaurant-addition protection, said Alan Gradek, who heads the strike team for the California Department of Forestry.
Gradek said several fire engines were stationed at the lodge to protect it and a couple of residences further north. More engines were stationed at the Bar-O-Boys Ranch. Fire crews are hoping to contain the Shelley Creek Fire by Saturday.
Prison fire crews from the California Department of Corrections filled tables at the lodge while they grabbed a quick lunch.
"These guys are doing a great job," said Bill's wife Cindy Grier. "We had 50 for dinner here last night and another 150 here for breakfast and dinner today. It's not unusual to get 150 people throughout the day here, but not all at once."
Several miles to the northwest, homes along Low Divide Road remained safe yesterday afternoon, according to officials. The Sour-Biscuit Fire slowed its progress into California on Tuesday giving some relief to residents in that area.
Security measures, however, ruffled some feathers as Search-and-Rescue personnel turned some residents back at the checkpoint at Highway 197 and Low Divide Road.
"Only residents who show identification of where they live can go in," said Mike Saffin of Search and Rescue. "They are allotted a certain amount of time to get in and get their stuff out."
A group of five or six residents waited at the checkpoint yesterday to be get information and get updates on their property.
Low Divide resident Frances Silva, who lives close enough to Highway 197 that she wasn't evacuated, brought pies and coffee to the Search and Rescue team manning the checkpoint.
She said in the past, tinder dry brush was cleared along the road but not anymore.
"They used to cut the brush back all along the road. But since the pavement and subdivisions went in, they haven't," Silva said. "It has grown really thick. I'm just wondering if they are planning on doing that again now."
Alex Csutoras, a resident of North Bank Road, said he was expecting the fire emergency.
"It's about time this country burned up," Csutoras said. "You can't close it off to people in order to protect it and then just let it grow and grow. They protected it to the point where it's burned up."