Oct. 5 North Complex Fire: Precarious operations for the next 24 to 48 hours

As the North Complex Fire grew from the Claremont and then expanded to include the Bear and then exploded to Oroville (now the West Zone) there was a goal — keep the fire out of the Feather River Canyon. Well it’s there. Now the goals are twofold — keep it from spotting over Highway 70 and protecting critical infrastructure.

Anyone who has driven the terrain, knows the inherent difficulty of this situation — steep, rugged mountainsides and erratic wind gusts, even on otherwise calm days. Firefighters must work with not only the fire threat, but the onslaught of rocks and timber that will roll down or drop from the canyon walls. It’s also a challenging area to mount an air attack.

With that backdrop, firefighters plan to spend the next 24 to 48 hours in a fight to keep the fire from spreading to the penstocks (a critical part of PG&E’s hydroelectric system). Drones may be used to introduce fire into the terrain to reduce fuels and help protect firefighters. If drones aren’t available, using helicopters to drop ping-pong sized balls that ignite on impact are being considered.

While the fire has not spotted across Highway 70 yet, dozer and contingency lines are being constructed just in case that occurs.

Advertisement

The Lassen National Forest is aiding the Plumas National Forest with that task. The entire effort is being managed by California Interagency Incident Management Team 4, which returned to command Saturday following a break after its initial 21-day run on the North Complex.

As of this morning, Oct. 5, the fire is at 318,724 acres and is 83 percent contained. Bucks Lake area and some Canyon residents are under mandatory evacuations (Bucks Lake residents will be allowed to return to the area again today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; details below).(For full descriptions of the latest closure information see the Sheriff’s order below; it has remained in effect since Tuesday.)

Meteorologists are predicting a change in weather with cooler temperatures arriving midweek and the potential for rain this weekend.

To date, the cost of the firefight is pegged at $76 million — and that’s just for the portion that was formerly the Claremont and the Bear, now the the south and north zones — it doesn’t include the west zone near Oroville.

Advertisement

The fire which began Aug. 17, is now ranked fifth in California as being the the deadliest fire in modern history; fifth for being the largest fire, and sixth for the being the most destructive.

In the west zone, please see CAL FIRE Team 4 updates for more up to date information at: www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/8/18/north-complex-fire/

Video operational updates and live broadcasts for all portions of the fire can be viewed on Plumas National Forest’s Facebook page. 

The North Complex began with the Claremont, Bear and Sheep fires. The latter broke out on the Plumas National Forest, but quickly pushed into Lassen County forcing evacuations around Susanville and destroying several homes. (It was broken off from the North Complex and handled separately).

The Claremont Fire broke out Aug. 17 as the result of a lightning strike. It forced evacuations and threatened the communities of East Quincy, La Porte Road, the Highway 70 corridor, Spring Garden, Greenhorn, Cromberg and Sloat during the past weeks. Only one outbuilding has been lost during the fire.

The Bear Fire also broke out Aug. 17 following a lightning strike. Initially it was left to burn because it wasn’t immediately a threat to people or property; it was in steep, rugged terrain; and resources were scarce due to the fires burning across the state. So though it held at 50 acres for a while, it grew to over 12,000 acres and threatened the communities of Bucks Lake, Haskins Valley, Tollgate and Meadow Valley. For full evacuation lists go to:

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.