Hiouchi residents can meet with U.S. Forest Service and other officials at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Hiouchi Fire hall. Information about the fire will be presented, and residents will have a chance to ask questions. Low Divide residents also are invited to attend. No meeting for Crescent City residents has yet been planned. Hundreds of Gasquet residents turned out for a similar meeting Wednesday night and were told their community would not be evacuated unless the fire crawls to within 1.5 miles of homes, as the crow flies. Currently, the fire is about six miles away.
The Sour Biscuit fire continued to spread today, crossing Low Divide Road north of the intersection with Gasquet Mountain Road. So far, however, no residences are imminently threatened. Currently, the fire's size is estimated at 19,513 acres. Low Divide Road residents have not been allowed to return to their homes.
The Shelley Creek Fire did not spread significantly today. It is estimated at 700 acres. A Triplicate reporter and photographer spend all day Thursday on the fireline. Look for their report in Friday morning's Daily Triplicate.
Power lines remain safe for the moment. Highway 199 remains closed.
The Red Cross has a food and evacuation shelter at Crescent Elk School. If further evacuations become necessary, arrangements can be made to assist evacuees with temporary placement of pets and livestock. For more information on services, call 464-8380. Donations can be made by calling 464-2277.
(Update as of 8 a.m., Aug. 1)
Firefighting crews from around the nation descended en masse on Del Norte County yesterday, as the two fires raging in the hills outside Crescent City rose to the number-one firefighting priority in the country.
Evidence of the new status was clear yesterday at Del Norte High School, where exhausted firefighters lounged on the grass and grabbed naps in a sea of tents, bulldozers, trucks and other equipment.
"Our focus is to go to the fire perimeter and see what we can do tactically to stop the fire where it is," said Wally Bennett of the U.S. Forest Service. Bennett was given command of the firefighting efforts last night and heads the Northern Rockies National Incident Command Team from Montana.
"The direction I got was to focus our efforts on the Biscuit-Fire Zone II, which is what we are calling it now, on the California side and the Shelley Creek Fire," Bennett said yesterday, as he marshaled the effort from the bustling high school command center.
Bennett said a combination of fire breaks and a direct assault on the two fires is being implemented. Nine hand crews with two helicopters and six more ordered have been assigned to the Biscuit Fire. The Shelley Creek Fire has 41 fire engines, 17 hand crews, four bulldozers and five helicopters assigned, with 879 total in personnel.
An assessment of the fires yesterday showed the Shelley Creek Fire had tripled overnight and now has spread to 700 acres, the Forest Service reported. The larger Sour-Biscuit Fire, now only a few miles from the giant Florence Fire in Oregon, covers more than 33,000 acres.
"The tactics are recommended by the operations chiefs, and I look at it and see where it all fits in with the overall strategy," Bennett said.
"I'm really strong with operations, plans and logistics," Bennett said. "I have a heavy staff I brought 57 people with me. Generally, we have more folks and we can move quicker in our operations."
Bennett, who just arrived from fighting a fire in Colorado for 18 days, said every fire presents its own challenges. In Del Norte County it's the weather.
"That's different," Bennett said about the often cool and humid ocean breezes. "The problem we're having here is with our aviation operations. There is a very narrow window of opportunity to view the fire. In the morning there is fog. Shortly after that (is gone), the smoke moves in."
But the coastal breeze is a blessing too, Bennett said, because it is helping protect the Low Divide Road area, a rural mountainous area near the Oregon border. "It's helping. Right now there doesn't appear to be a real threat on the west side of the Biscuit Fire to the residents," he said.
A fire break was cut above Low Divide Road along a line that is generally just inside the Smith River National Recreational Area boundary. Bulldozers from Simpson Timber Company accomplished the task. Bennett said this would be one "anchor" from which to attack the fires. He said this secondary line was still a good distance from the fire perimeter.
"From a safety standpoint, we want a good solid anchor that is safe and then start flanking the fire. This will involve water work with helicopters and fire retardant at times," he said.
Bennett said his team is assessing the best vantage points on the other fronts, but that effort is hampered by the poor visibility.
"It is very smokey on the east side. And it's not a very clean burn very spotty so it's difficult to get a handle on where to start," he said.
Linda Szczepanik, incident commander of the Northern California Team, has been conducting aerial reconnaissance for the firefighting effort. Szczepanik is also coordinating the immediate operation against the Shelley Creek Fire, burning along Highway 199 near Patrick Creek Lodge.
"Linda will run by us what they have planned," Bennett said of the Shelley Creek operation. "She will run it by us to make sure we are on the same page. So far they've done everything the same as we would do.
Incident commander Paul Broyles from Idaho has set up a base camp south of Cave Junction and is coordinating Oregon operations with Bennett, he said yesterday.