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Chips Fire 8/15/2012 update

Michael Condon
Staff Writer/Web Manager
8/15/2012
8:00 p.m. update

Firefighters succeeded in holding the fire south of the Humbug Road in the Grizzly Campground area. Crews also continued improving fireline between Butt Valley Reservoir and Yellow Creek Campground, and will continue burning operations there this evening.

East of Butt Valley Reservoir, structure protection groups went into the community of Seneca to remove brush and branches from around buildings. Firefighters also sprayed buildings with fire-retardant gel.

The spot fire that started yesterday evening at the bottom of Butt Valley Reservoir Dam continued to burn today. It remains approximately one acre in size but is expected to grow. It is located in extremely steep and difficult terrain and could not be reached by helicopters today due to low visibility caused by smoke.

On the top of Red Hill, hand crews continued to battle persistent spot fires threatening the telecommunication towers there.

The 940 structures that are considered threatened are in the following communities: Lake Almanor West, Almanor, Prattville, the Big Meadows subdivision, Canyondam, Belden, Rush Creek, and Seneca, and structures along Caribou Road. Residents in these areas will continue to see CalFire and Office of Emergency Services engines from various city fire departments moving through neighborhoods as they plan structure protection tactics. Bulldozers and other heavy equipment will continue building and improving contingency lines running southeast from Seneca Road.

PG&E representatives are working closely with the fire management team, and are prepared to de-energize transmission lines as needed for firefighting efforts, including the use of aircraft.

Fire Behavior and Smoke:

Today fire activity was low with very limited movement of the perimeter. Thunderstorms which had been forecast for today passed to the east of the fire area. Winds out of the northeast this evening should help burning operations between Butt Valley Reservoir and Yellow Creek Campground.

12:00 p.m. update

Although there is no increase in the estimated size of the fire right now, there is a new map of the fire. Click here to view the map.

There are a couple of interesting points about the map.

But first, it is time for some truth in advertising. I have many connections to this story that I need to be up front about. My family has a summer home directly in the path of this fire. I also have a bias based on some previous experience in wildland fire; 37 years to be exact. My last job before settling into partial retirement as a web manager for Feather Publishing was as Chief of Fire and Aviation for the Plumas National Forest. I have worked on fire teams just like the one managing this fire. I have lots of friends that are now working on the Chips Fire.

OK....There. It’s out. This is part news reporting and part editorial comment. Where one stops and the other starts may be a bit blurry. But I hope not.

This map shows 38,559 acres burned. But we have already been told the fire has burned over 42,000 acres. And that was several hours ago. I really want to know where these additional acres are.

Let me point out a few interesting things on this map. The west side of the map shows a vast area between the uncontrolled edge of the fire and the constructed fire line. That is down-wind from the main fire. The fire could make some impressive slope driven runs in this area, but essentially the fire will back into these control lines with much less difficulty than what firefighters are facing on other parts of the fire. It is not the fire managers’ biggest concern. Far from it. They located indirect fire-lines in places that should be defensible as long as we don't switch to a north wind weather pattern. That is a relatively safe bet.

The map and narrative the fire team has released (see the 9:00 a.m. update below for the narrative.) suggests some very good progress on the north side of Butt Lake. That is critical to protecting the residences from Prattville to Almanor West. It will be a challenge, but for now that looks and sounds pretty good.

The problem area seems to be along Caribou Road. The narrative states the fire has crossed to the east side of the road. The map does not show this. Stopping this portion of the fire is absolutely critical for Seneca and Canyon Dam. That is where the big challenge is today. Let's hope the­­­y can hold on to it. That is a steep canyon with few roads or reasonable places to fight a fire.

They have an extremely tough job today.

9:00 a.m. update
The Chips Fire is now 42,215 acres and 20% contained. Full containment is not expected until August 31. Click here to see the most recent map.
Last night, rocks and debris tumbled down onto Caribou Road, rendering the road impassable. This morning the fire is burning east of Caribou Road and below Butt Valley Reservoir Dam. Heavy smoke in the canyon overnight obscured the fire and slowed its spread. The fire has not climbed out of the canyon below Butt Valley Reservoir Dam. Crews are working to establish containment lines off the south end of Butt Valley Reservoir to stop the fire's northeast movement.

On the fire's north flank, west of Butt Valley Reservoir, crews were successful in burning operations overnight, checking the fire's spread to the north. Work in this area will continue today to secure the line. Control lines along Humbug Road west of Yellow Creek continued to hold.

On the top of Red Hill, hand crews will continue to work today to extinguish fire burning among the rocks near the telecommunications towers. CalTrans road crews will be working to clear the debris from Caribou Road as early as possible so that crews can continue holding the fire west of the road.

The 940 structures that are considered threatened are in the following communities: Lake Almanor West, Almanor, Prattville, the Big Meadows subdivision, Canyondam, Belden, Rush Creek, and Seneca, and structures along Caribou Road. Residents in these areas will continue to see CalFire and Office of Emergency Services engines from various city fire departments moving through neighborhoods as they plan structure protection tactics. Bulldozers and other heavy equipment will continue building and improving contingency lines running southeast from Seneca Road.

PG&E representatives are working closely with the fire management team, and are prepared to de-energize transmission lines as needed for firefighting efforts, including the use of aircraft.

Fire Behavior and Smoke: Typical overnight cooling brought smoke down into the canyons overnight and this morning. Today's weather forecast includes a chance for additional thunderstorm activity with the potential for gusty winds. Unstable weather conditions could contribute to potential long-range spotting and fire growth.

The Caribou Road was closed last night due to heavy debris roll-out. Cal Trans will be clearing the road today. The increase in acreage was from Line Scan Infrared and will be verified today with Infrared mapping mission that is scheduled for this morning. Mandatory evacuation notices are in effect for the communities of Seneca, Rush Creek and Ohio Valley. A voluntary evacuation is in place for Canyon Dam, Big Meadow, and Rocky Point. A Sheriff's advisory is in effect for West Almanor, Almanor, and Prattville.

The Chips Fire is just one of 70 large fires burning across the west. In our area the Reading Fire in Shasta County is 23,958 acres and the Rush Fire in Lassen County is 96,239 acres. The Lassen Fire 10 miles north west of Butte Meadows in Butte County is 1,000 acres.

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