By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Because of strong, dry winds, firefighters were placed on high alert last night as they battled forest fires burning just a few miles from Gasquet.

The newly-arrived weather system brought gusty dry winds from the north and U.S. Forest Service officials are comparing it to the system that pushed the fire into California from Oregon more than a week ago.

andquot;The weather pattern has changed over the area and an offshore flow has begun,andquot; said Terry Knupp, U.S. Forest Service information officer. andquot;(The) warning is in effect beginning Wednesday night when the wind is expected to get stronger.andquot;

The area being watched most closely is approximately 3.7 miles north of Gasquet, Knupp said. Although the fire has been within one mile of the community's evacuation perimeter, Knupp said the area is manned heavily by firefighting crews.

andquot;We have quite a few folks out there cleaning up the line and watching for any spot fires that may occur because of the winds,andquot; she said. andquot;Folks may see a little bit of smoke because what they are doing is burning isolated areas of fuel within the perimeter.andquot; Knupp said this would help reduce the possibility of unexpected flareups.

The weather conditions yesterday included 5- to 12-mph northeast winds with a relative humidity of 25 percent. Knupp said wind gusts have been greater than 12 mph. Similar conditions are expected to continue through Friday and possibly into the weekend, she said.

Power lines feeding electricity to Del Norte County from Oregon continue to be monitored, say Pacific Power employees.

andquot;They do have firelines cut between our facilities,andquot; said Monte Mendenhall of Pacific Power. andquot;We feel pretty secure in the fact these firelines should hold. We're still in really good shape.andquot;

The Sour Biscuit Fire, which it has been called since it marched into California on July 27, was officially renamed as the Florence Fire yesterday when the two blazes merged in southern Oregon.

andquot;We're not calling it the Sour Biscuit Fire anymore. In California, it is now the Florence Fire Zone II,andquot; said Knupp. andquot;At 6 a.m. (Wednesday) we received information that the area command determined they had merged.andquot;

The large Florence Fire has been burning since early July and the two fires skirted within miles of each other last week and were predicted to merge.

The acreage consumed by the combined fires was 285,733 Wednesday. Zone II, which has recently been burning within three miles of Gasquet, was responsible for 23,814 of the acreage.

Knupp said Zone II is almost completely encircled by a fire line and is now estimated at 56 percent containment.

There is still no estimate on complete containment.