By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
Campers high atop the Bear Basin watched as lightning arched through the skies and crashed into the mountain sides of the Six Rivers National Forest Tuesday, igniting fires on Jedediah Mountain in the Siskiyou Wilderness area.
It was one of these campers, Richard McKinnon, who first spotted the fires on Jedediah Mountain and drove 10 miles down dark, winding, cliff-side roads to alert authorities.
His daughter, Kate McKinnon, was not at the campsite that night, but she said her family watched as lightning painted the sky white and the land orange.
"They were all talking about how spectacular the lightning was," she said. "They watched the lightning and then they noticed the fire over there."
Kate said her family could see the flames coming over the mountain, and they were wondering if they would need to leave the campsite. But her father, a retired appraiser who knows the area well, immediately left to alert the authorities of the wildfire.
"He just drove down to Gasquet where he could get to a phone," she said. "We were waiting to see if they were going to ask us to leave, but so far they haven't."
Instead, the U.S. Forest Service sent John Dean to the Bear Basin Butte lookout, located next to the McKinnon camp site, to monitor the fires.
"I was the first person to give precise locations for the fires," Dean said from the balcony of the lookout. He said that while he watched the Jedediah Fireone of five that started Tuesday eveninghe saw the flames consume 20 acres of forest land in 90 seconds.
"It was amazing. It was so impressiveeven without binocularsbecause I've never seen that before," said Dean, who has been working for the U.S. Forest Service since 1989. "I'm estimating flame lengths of 100 feet. They got up into the canopy and just blew up.
"The whole top of the mountain was on fire," he said. "It was amazing. I was out there whooping and hollering."
Dean said his job is to watch the fire from the lookout and warn fire crews if there are any major changes in the fire.
"Right now, what I'm doing is making sure that if that Jedediah Fire cooks, I warn the people heading out there," he said. "They're kind of depending on me."
Eight smoke jumpers and two hand crews attacked the Jedediah Fire Thursday, with one injury being reported.
"One of the smoke jumpers was injured during the jump," U.S. Forest Service Fire Information Officer Brian Morris said. The parachute of one of the jumpers was caught on the top of a tree, causing the man to plummet to the ground, Morris said, but that the smoke jumper was treated at a Medford, Ore., hospital and released early Friday morning.
On Friday, Morris said that of the 175 acres of wildfires in the Six Rivers National Forest, 15 percent are containeda 5 percent increase from the previous day.
"Everything is looking good right now," he said, but that the fires could pick up on Friday due to the lack of fog and cloud cover.
"The fire activity may be a little bit more than it has been, but I don't expect much," Morris said. "We're good."