By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The California portion of the Biscuit Fire grew only slightly yesterday near Gasquet and officials said full containment is expected soon.
But the fight is hardly over. The giant blaze continues to rage uncomfortably close to communities in Southern Oregon on the western edge of the fire and power lines supplying all of Del Norte County's electricity remain very close to the fire. So far, the lines appear to be safe and no outages are expected.
"It's still three-quarters to a-half mile away from the (transmission) lines," said Monte Mendenhall, spokesperson for PacifiCorp. "... They dug a pretty good fireline between the fire and the facilities at the O'Brien stateline area." The weather system that's been in place for the past week has been pushing the fire away from the lines, officials said.
Yesterday's estimate put the total fire at 378,865 acres with 26-percent containment. So far the cost of fighting the blaze has been $52.5 million.
The Forest Service reported the destruction of Snow Camp Lookout and a communications repeater station late Monday afternoon as the fire continued its assault in Curry County.
The Curry County Sheriff's Office continued pre-evacuation alerts for the communities of Agness, Illahe, Oak Flats and the Wilderness Retreat areas north of Brookings and the Gardner Ranch.
In Del Norte County, however, firefighting was definitely winding down.
"The (California portion of the) fire is currently 90 percent contained with full containment expected by 6 a.m. Thursday," said Terry Knupp, fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "Fire activity along the perimeter is low. The west side of the fire is clear. The south side has a little low-intensity heat, but no flames. The east side looks good as well."
Accompanying the good news in California, Wally Bennett's Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, the group that orchestrated the bulk of the offensive against Del Norte fires last week, packed their bags yesterday to return home.
"This is a normal transition as Wally Bennett's team has timed out in the number of consecutive days it can work," Knupp said. "Wally and the team extend their sincere thanks to the community and Six Rivers National Forest for all the support and donations. We could not have been successful without the efforts of everyone."
Aside from "isolated smokes" appearing in the Shelley Fire area, which closed a section of Highway 199 west of Patrick Creek last week, Knupp said the fire was not threatening to re-emerge.
Once the immediate emergency has passed, the next phase will be rehabilitating the scorched forestland.
"Specialists assigned to the Biscuit Fire Zone II are currently assessing the impacts that fire suppression had in the local ecosystem," said Knupp. "... This is a concentrated effort to protect areas and prevent long-term soil erosion from occurring on areas of steep slope. In general, the needs are to clean up trash, install water bars on hand lines and lop or scatter vegetation on bare soils."