County supervisors discuss Dixie Fire and its impacts on residents
Fire. Evacuations. Mail. Telecommuncations. Garbage. The Plumas County Board of Supervisors met in a special meeting this morning, July 27, to deal with the Dixie Fire and its impact on everyday life throughout the county.
Fire personnel from the incident command team briefed the supervisors on the fire’s status and wanted to assure them and county residents that the visible fire is chiefly the burnout operations that firefighters are conducting to stop the fire’s spread.
Supervisor Kevin Goss said that it’s very important that residents get the message “that the fire that we can see,” is intentional. He and the other supervisors have received numerous calls from nervous residents, as has the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office.
It was reported that “things are progressing along fairly well on containment on the West Zone,” which includes the Almanor Basin communities. There are more than 5,000 firefighters on the Dixie, which is “three times more than any other fire.”
Operations Section Chief John Goss pointed to the map as he discussed the fire’s progression in the East Zone, and pointed to the various areas where burnouts are being conducted to protect Crescent Mills, Taylorsville, Greenville and Quincy.
He estimated that the burnout will provide a buffer about 1.5 miles to 2 miles from Crescent Mills. “Once that burnout cools down, it will help protect Crescent Mills,” he said. There’s still a hotspot above Taylorsville that crews are addressing.
Pointing to an area above Greenville, Goss said that two lines were opened up from the Chips Fire, and a burn operation there will keep it about 3 miles away from Greenville.
The plan is to keep the fire away from the valley floors where the communities could be threatened.
“When we do evacuations through the Sheriff’s Office, we have all these different zones that have risk factors,” Sheriff Todd Johns said. For example, he said we know “It will take us approximately 12 hours to evacuate West Quincy.”
With that information, they determine at what point in an incident the call for an evacuation should be ordered, but even then it’s not automatic — more discussion is had.
But, then there are the times when fire officials tell the sheriff that an area has to be evacuated immediately, based on the fire’s behavior.
Johns said he takes evacuations very seriously; he knows the impact they have on residents and their families. His own family is evacuated. “I know I have Bucks Lake and Meadow Valley going on 8 days of evacuation,” he said. He then pointed to the various areas on the map with firing operations underway coupled with unpredictable weather. “It is important to me to get folks back into the houses as soon as I can, but I’m not going to be the guy on CNN saying I let these people go back to their houses and they all burned up.”
Board Chairman Jeff Engel said that when it comes to evacuations, it’s better to err on the side of the caution, “don’t want to end up like Paradise.”
Johns has also been asked about the danger of Quincy getting shut off (due to road closures) and people being unable to evacuate. There is the concern that Highway 70 east out of Quincy could be closed, as it has been going west. “Just because we aren’t letting people down Hwy 89, doesn’t need it can’t be done,” he said of an alternative. Evacuations would still be possible, but in small, escorted groups. Sheriff personnel have also identified other routes to exit.
The supervisors approved an urgency ordinance for Verizon to hook into Plumas Sierra Telecommunications.
Johns told the supervisors that Verizon lost critical infrastructure that is causing numerous communication issues. He said that the two agencies have agreed to this temporary solution, but it required board authorization.
When the US Postal Service announced yesterday that it was closing several post offices in the county, it raised a host of questions and potential problems.
Plumas County Clerk/Recorder Marcy DeMartile is spearheading the effort to get answers for the county. She said that the mail that is being held for pickup in Chico is mail that was destined for post office boxes, and meetings were being held to decide how street delivery mail would be handled. She has been told that as soon as Cal Fire gives the “all clear” the mail service would be restored.
Supervisor Greg Hagwood said the trucks that bring the bulk mail deliveries to Quincy come from West Sacramento –so why can’t they go over Highway 80 to Truckee and arrive here? He was adamant that it wasn’t acceptable to stop bringing mail to Quincy, when there is a route available. According to DeMartile, any zip code that begins with 96 comes out of Reno, while 95 comes out of West Sacramento.
Sheriff Todd Johns said that he would be willing to escort an effort to get mail from Chico, but didn’t know if it would be allowed. Yesterday, he sent people down the canyon to pick up prescriptions for jail inmates that were being held at Federal Express. A similar issue holds true for UPS. That entity has ceased deliveries in the evacuation areas, but it is impacting large areas such as Quincy, that are under a warning.
Yesterday it was announced that all residential garbage service in the western end of the county had been suspended and the transfer stations closed — affecting Quincy, Indian Valley, and the Almanor Basin.
Board chairman Engel said he talked to Public Works Director John Mannle this morning and he was meeting with Waste management to “figure out how to fix this.”
“At the very least transfer sites should be open to take household garbage,” Supervisor Hagwood said. He said that it could quickly lead to illegal dumping and environmental health issues if there is no way to dispose of garbage. “At the very minimum transfer sites need to be open,” he reiterated. “There is not an imminent threat to Quincy and Chester.”
Sheriff Johns said that he realizes the importance of the mail and the garbage systems but he’s not in a position to lift evacuation warnings for Quincy.
Sheriff Johns mentioned the amount of law enforcement mutual aid that is here from all over the country. Now that a number of evacuations have been completed, he is looking at scaling those numbers down, but he said they are still hugely helpful with patrols, roadblocks, and taking over some local tasks. The magnitude of the impacts of the Dixie Fire are unprecedented in Plumas County and he said, “as much as our staff want to work 24/7, I won’t let them do it.”
His office is in the process of setting up a process for residents to gain access to damaged and destroyed property information; as well as setting up a local assistance center, though that could take a little longer. More information will be shared as it becomes available.
The board also passed urgency resolutions declaring local and health emergencies as a result of the fire to access state and federal resources.