Triplicate journalists will keep an eye on the fire situation over the weekend and post updates if there are major developments. Otherwise, the Web site below will continue to provide ongoing information:
(Update as of 5 p.m. Aug. 2)
The Sour Biscuit Zone 2 fire in the Smith River National Recreation Area continued to grow slowly while the Shelley Creek fire was 95 percent contained by Friday afternoon. It was expected to be fully contained by 6 p.m. The Sour Biscuit fire was only 5 percent contained by Friday afternoon and only one mile from merging with the giant Florence fire in the Illinois Valley.
Rock and burning material continues to present a hazard for travel along Highway 199. The Highway Patrol will not reopen the road until the status report says it is safe to do so. "We're looking at it on the hour," said Lyle Radke of the California Highway Patrol. At the fire meeting in Hiouchi Thursday night, Radke made a guess that the road could open as soon as Saturday or Sunday.
Low Divide Road residents continue to be displaced from their homes with no definite answers from officials regarding when they may return. The southern portion of the fire is only 1.5 miles from the nearest residence at the top of Rowdy Creek Road. Fire officials say they still don't have a secure fire line in that area of the fire. The fire is still five miles north of Gasquet.
(Update as of 8 a.m. Aug. 2)
LINE HOLDING AT SHELLEY CREEK FIRE
By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
A full-blown assault on the Shelley Creek Fire paid dividends Thursday as fire crews refused to give ground along Highway 199.
Fire spotters lined the highway about every 50 yards keeping tabs on smaller fires while helicopters dropped hundreds of gallons of water on interior blazes heavy enough to snap branches off the trees. A few fires jumped the highway but were quickly extinguished, said officials with the U.S. Forest Service yesterday.
"By early evening we should be done securing the line," said Kent Swartzland, the branch director of the Shelley Creek Fire. "The only problem we still have is with the Cedar Rustic Campground, we've had spotting (fires) all around there."
Swartzland estimated the 700-acre fire was at 50-percent containment at noon yesterday and said full containment is expected by this weekend. "At that point it will just be a matter of mopping up. That should finish it for this fire," Swartzland said.
Approximately 850 people were assigned to fight the Shelley Creek Fire compared to 144 assigned to fight the 19,513 acres of the Sour-Biscuit Fire burning in California.
Fire Commander Wally Bennett said Wednesday battling the Shelley Creek blaze would be a first priority because of the terrain and nearby structures. The Shelley Creek Fire is the blaze responsible for closing Highway 199.
Caltrans trucks escorted fire vehicles between Patrick Creek and Monkey Creek yesterday on Highway 199, scooping rocks and other debris from the road that the fire had dislodged from the steep hills above.
An unidentified explosion that rumbled through the area in the afternoon launched a flurry of radio calls, but officials ultimately dismissed it as a falling tree or an emptied and discarded fuel can.
Officials said the Sour-Biscuit Fire grew very little on Wednesday and Thursday. This allowed a fire break to be built on the west side of the fire near Low Divide Road, where approximately 30 residences were evacuated last weekend.
"It's looking great," said Ann Garland, the liaison officer with the Forest Service. "We're working on a burnout along the line there and making really good progress."
According to Forest Service maps, the fire jumped Low Divide Road east of Copper Creek Mine and burned about a quarter-mile west of the road. The Forest Service maps designate the road as Wimer Road in the area north of the Rowdy Creek Road intersection.
Garland said most of the northern portion, up to the Oregon border, is secured now but a small area on the southwest perimeter is currently being doused with water by helicopter.
"We hope to have it done by today," Garland said about securing the southwest portion. "The west is essentially secured but not contained. There is no containment yet on this fire."
The southern and eastern perimeters of the fire have been difficult to define, officials said, because of heavy smoke and "dirty" burns.
"A dirty burn is where you have low brush that has been burned through but surrounding brush and leaves have only been dried out by the blaze," said Dave Webb, fire management officer. "These areas can potentially come back and reburn, so you have to keep a close eye on them."
Favorable weather might help the effort this weekend.
"The temperature is expected to drop five to 10 degrees this weekend and we have a possibility of showers on Sunday but a very low probability," Garland said.