Incident commander reports Chips Fire under control

Despite containment of the 75,000-acre Chips Fire Aug. 31, Forest Service officials anticipate the fire is likely to smolder and create flair-ups until fully doused by the first heavy rainfall of the fall season. Between now and then personnel will continue mop-up operations, to include water drops, throughout the fire zone.  Photo courtesy Susan Mueller, Dyer Mountain Photography
Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer


A meeting to discuss final plans to put out the Chips Fire and restore the forest at the Chester Memorial Hall, Aug. 31, at 6 p.m., also introduced new incident commander Joe Molhoek to the public.

“This has been a long and difficult fire,” said Lawrence Crabtree, Plumas National Forest deputy supervisor. “We have been all out from the beginning. We couldn’t stop the fire, so we brought in a team to help us.”

“We spent millions of dollars on this fire and we are going to keep spending money. What we don’t want is to hear people ask why we didn’t spend more money to put it out sooner.

“We have had 72 fires so far this year. Out of the 72 fires, only two were not put out immediately. We are proud of the fact we can put out fires.”

Once the fire reached 100 percent containment, Team 4 had to examine the complexity of Chips Fire and decide what team would be best to suited to take over.

“I want to introduce you to Joe Molhoek of the Northern California Interagency Incident Management Team 2.

“He is a great guy and knows what he is getting into. He and his team are very competent. The only difference between his team and my team (Team 4) is the additional classes required for a type 1 team,” said Team 4 Incident Manager Rocky Opliger.

“As the fire reduces complexity, we will start downsizing costs. Team 2 will be continuing extensive mop up; there is an incredible amount of suppression repair to be done.”

“A dedicated infrared ship, able to fly lower and detect closer has been assigned to Chips,” said Opliger.

“The threat of this fire getting up and running is done. It is contained.” Team 4 Incident Manager Rocky Opliger

Al Vazquez, Almanor Ranger District Ranger, explained what would be done once the fire is out.

“For the next four to five years, we will go along roads and move dead and dying trees. A long-term restoration program will be initiated.”

“What we do now will influence what happens 10, 15, and 20 years from now. In most of the forest, we have the ability to go in and remove dead forestation and restore the area. It will take quite a long time, however.”

Vasquez said he would collect public comments before making a final decision on how to restore the forest vegetation.

“In the interest of public safety, we will have two people from each forest district look at the burnt area and determine what needs to be salvaged as soon as possible,” said Michael Donald, district ranger, Mt. Hough Ranger District.

“From a decision standpoint, we have to look at the low, medium and high hanging fruit and determine the order in which we handle things.

“The burnt area was a planning area. We already put a year of work into it and now it is all burnt up, so we have to start from the beginning,” concluded Donald.

According to Donald, the money that was set aside to restore damage made by the Storrie Fire will cover any part of the Chips Fire that followed the Storrie footprint.

In attempt to address public concern, Tim Holabird, northern counties field representative for Congressmen Tom McClintock California District 4 said the following:

“Chips Fire was an act of God. We had four fires that hit at once, and we couldn’t get the resources fast enough to fight them all.

“Our office has monitored these catastrophic fires very closely. We will be expediting (the need for relief) through Congress.

“There have been a lot of unwarranted critics on this fire. Forest Service has not been dragging their feet. In fact, this is the best-managed forest in California.

“There were 900 homes to protect and we didn’t lose a single one.”

The congressmen’s office is collecting data from local business affected by Chips Fire.  McClintock’s off will submit the data to Congress for evaluation once enough businesses have submitted data.

Plumas County Office of Emergency Services Director Jerry Snipe will be collecting the data. For more information, contact 283-6332.


Public Comment

One community member and former DC-10 pilot were not happy with previous explanations on how resources were being utilized.

After voicing his dismay on costs of the fire, he asked why the DC-10 was not used when the fire was less than 100 acres. He explained the larger capacity aircraft would have been more effective than the small S2-Ts used.

He was adamant the DC-10 would have no problem flying into the deep canyon and would have stopped the fire before costs escalated to well over $44 million.

Opliger explained the DC-10 was requested every day while his team was stationed on the fire. He could not answer whether it was requested for the initial response.

“Under my command, we have utilized the DC-10 every time it was available.

“It is a balancing act. We cannot base our attacks on aviation. Ships can, and have, been pulled off our fire and sent to fight other fires without notice, said Opliger.”

The former pilot was not happy with the response, and insisted the Forest Service did not respond adequately on the initial response.

Another community member was angered by the man’s persistence and told him to “shut up” several times.

Crabtree, uncertain of what question was being asked, responded calmly by telling the pilot that Forest Service has never relied on aircraft for fighting fire, but would consider utilizing the DC-10 on initial call if the opportunity presented itself.

“We’re doing everything to minimize this fire and keep it from moving out of containment lines.

“The threat of this fire getting up and running is done. It is contained,” said Opliger.

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