By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The mood was tense in a partially-evacuated Gasquet Friday afternoon as edgy residents and exhausted firefighters prepared for the worst.
With the aid of hot, gusty winds Thursday night, the Florence Fire Zone II broke through a fireline north of Gasquet, triggering an evacuation of the community.
Hoses were laid and reservoirs were erected Friday along Gasquet Loop Road. Fire crews said they hoped to protect the scattered homes in case the fire is pushed down the ridge into the community.
"We're putting in portable pumps as a backup system so we can work to protect these houses if we need to," said Justin Kerwick of the U.S. Forest Service. "This is a lousy spot because it's so narrow in here, but the overall topography is good."
Helicopters were heard overhead continually Friday as they shuttled between scooping water from the Smith River and dumping it on the blaze. Since the fire was now burning in an area that is free of Port Orford cedar disease, helicopters were often forced to take lengthy detours to pick up uncontaminated river water.
Forest Service Spokesperson Maggie Pittman said fire crews have a handle on most fire boundaries except the stubborn southern area nearest Gasquet.
"This little pocket down here is what got away from us Thursday night," Pittman said. "We're still real comfortable with most of the other areas, and the last I heard we were near 80 percent containment."
Approximately 2200 new acres were scorched north of the North Fork of the Smith River when the worst of the winds hit Thursday night. Winds tapered off a bit Friday morning, but temperatures neared 100 degrees by afternoon.
Forest Service spokesperson Terry Knupp said yesterday afternoon fire crews continue their attempts to get the upper hand of the blaze threatening Gasquet.
"The suppression strategy for this area will include water drops from helicopters and constructing dozer and handlines down the ridges south of the existing fire perimeter," Knupp said in a news release.