Ocean air can’t stop coastal fire risk

By Triplicate Staff August 26, 2014 01:12 pm
Smoke rises from a half-acre brush fire Saturday afternoon on Crescent Beach. Del Norte Triplicate /Matthew Durkee
Smoke rises from a half-acre brush fire Saturday afternoon on Crescent Beach. Del Norte Triplicate /Matthew Durkee
Brush fire at Crescent Beach highlights danger 

A half-acre fire on Crescent Beach that produced significant smoke in Crescent City on Saturday evening was quickly contained thanks to a heavy multi-agency response.

An air tanker was brought in to quell the fire, which was primarily on Redwood National Park land but threatened a small home on nearby private property, according to Rick Young, deputy interagency fire chief for Six Rivers National Forest and the park.

The fire was started by a beach campfire and carried by the wind to land just north of the Crescent Beach parking lot, Young said.

“The wind was blowing pretty good, pushing it into the wildland,” Young said.

The wildland area was filled with dense brush, which “was the reason for the high generation of smoke,” said Mike Minton, fire chief for the Six Rivers/Redwood Interagency Fire Management Organization.

“If it was windier it would’ve been more problematic,” Minton said. “Resources were able to get a hose-lay around it relatively quickly.” 

The air tanker was mobilized both because the park land is a CalFire direct protection area and because the fire threatened a structure, a single-wide mobile home. The tanker made two drops from a single load. 

Two crews worked the fire late into Saturday evening.

“The threat had been mitigated,” Young said on Saturday night.

Crews from Crescent Fire Protection District, Pelican Bay State Prison, CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service all participated in fighting the fire, Young said.

Drought-caused fire risk even on moist North Coast

Although very dry fuels are the norm in drought years, the influence of moist marine layer air on the coast typically keeps the fire risk to a minimum, Minton said. Lighter fuels, like grass, brush and anything else less than 4 inches in diameter are not at high risk to burn because of the high relative humidity on the coast and the light precipitation that comes from fog drip, Minton said. 

“This year, though, we are seeing drought stress on large-diameter fuels on the coast,” Minton said. This means that for woody debris greater than 4 inches in diameter — also known as “1,000-hour fuels”  — “we are seeing dryer than normal conditions on the coast,” Minton said.

Coastal fire risk is especially high when there are warm northeast and easterly winds, which are much more common in September, Minton said.

“That will be the month of concern along the coast when it comes to risk for fires,” Minton said.

The public is advised to be especially cautious when having “beach fires that are adjacent to naturally occurring wildland fuels. If they are near or adjacent they can be much more problematic for months of August and September for fire spread,” Minton said.