Firefighters dig in on south flank

August 06, 2002 11:00 pm
The fire that swept through this grove of trees bordering Holiday Rd. left the trunks blackened and the forest floor devoid of brush.  (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
The fire that swept through this grove of trees bordering Holiday Rd. left the trunks blackened and the forest floor devoid of brush. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

There's a lot of smoke but still no flames in Gasquet as residents watch the latest developments of the nearby Sour-Biscuit Fire.

"The bombers have been out in-force working," said Judson Brohmer, owner of the Gasquet Market on Highway 199. "I haven't seen any flames. but I saw them drop retardant on one spot and the steam rise up. That was some precision work. Those guys know what they are doing."

Officials yesterday said there has been little movement on the fire's southern boundary this week. An offshore weather system expected to arrive last night is causing concern among officials but they said they are remaining optimistic.

"They still have the two fingers (of fire) that are stretching out toward Gasquet," said Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn yesterday morning. "They have some hot-shot crews working on that and so far it is looking good."

Public information officer Alison Jackson of the U.S. Forest Service said the southern perimeter is getting the full attention of firefighters.

"The finger of the fire on the south has a rough line around it now. It is expected to improve soon," Jackson said. "There are fire crews stationed in spots in and around Gasquet in case the fire should jump where we have it contained. The western and eastern edges of the fire are well-contained and we have mopping up in areas."

Further to the southwest, Hiouchi residents said they are keeping cool heads.

"I think we've been pretty calm here overall," said Myrna Finley of the Hiouchi Hamlet. "Everybody with the Forest Service has been very nice and very helpful. I think because they've been keeping people informed, it is keeping everybody calm."

Both Brohmer and Finley said business has dropped off significantly since the fires began raging last week.

"The road closures were kind of devastating, but you do what you have to do. For our summer season, we are losing thousands of dollars a day," Finley said. And the reopening of Highway 199 hasn't helped much, according to Brohmer. "There's very little traffic – except on the highway. There isn't much in the store."

The Sour-Biscuit Fire remained officially at 40-percent containment yesterday, as it was on Monday. Aside from the new ‘fingers' of fire growth toward Gasquet, there was also a surge on the southeastern boundary since Monday.

The Sour-Biscuit Fire Zone II, which covers the California portion of the blaze, has consumed more than 24,000 acres and has cost agencies $2.7 million to battle it. In Oregon, the Sour-Biscuit blaze has been threatening to merge with the larger Florence Fire.

The 850-acre Shelley Creek Fire east of Gasquet, which has been at 100-percent containment since Saturday, was expected to be fully controlled by today.

Jackson said a ‘contained' fire has a fuel break surrounding it of either natural or manmade origin. A ‘controlled' fire is the complete extinguishment of a fire, of related spot fires, and the line is strengthened to prevent a breakthrough of any flare-ups within its perimeter.

The Shelley Creek Fire has cost $2.75 million to battle.

Blackburn said yesterday that costs in fighting the blazes will become a priority once the emergency is over.

"If the Florence and the Sour-Biscuit Fires merge, it might mean more federal funding for us here. At least this is something we'll be looking at," Blackburn said. "Hopefully we can get something into this county to help pay for some of this."

Much higher costs have been incurred in Oregon, where the 241,000-acre Florence has racked up $13.7 million in costs.

Several Oregon communities have been on evacuation alert, with a 30-minute alert issued for Cave Junction. New 24-hour alerts were issued yesterday for Agness, Oak Flat and Illahee. Other communities considered at risk are Kerby, Selma, and O'Brien.