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Plumas Sheriff shares fire information and evacuation decisions

In a conversation this afternoon, Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns shared some insight into evacuation orders, the volatile nature of the local fires, and his gratitude to his staff, other agencies and the public.

The discussion took place while East Quincy residents remained evacuated and the Highway 70 corridor from La Porte and Chandler roads to Lee Summit were under advisories due to the Claremont Fire.

While Johns wants East Quincy residents to be able to return to their homes as soon as possible, he said it’s still too soon. “There’s a good dozer line,” Todds said, “but the fire is still backfiring off the top of the hill.” He explained that as the fire burned it created “fingers” through the landscape – so while a lot has burned, there is still fuel that could push the fire toward East Quincy. Additionally there is a Red Flag warning in place for tomorrow into Tuesday, which makes fire behavior even more unpredictable. “My main focus is keeping people safe,” he said.

As the fire pushes toward the Highway 70 corridor, Spring Garden and Greenhorn are the next prime areas of concern. They had been under an evacuation advisory, but then yesterday afternoon, Johns called for a mandatory evacuation, only to downgrade it to an advisory shortly thereafter. Johns explained what happened. He said the Forest Service contacted him and asked for the mandatory evacuation, which he granted. But then he met with Forest Service officials at the site and they discussed the situation. The evacuation had been called because the fire reached a “trigger point” for the Forest Service. Johns said that in his view the fire appeared to be too far from those areas to call for a mandatory evacuation. “After a lengthy discussion, we stood back,” he said. In the future, Johns said that there will be more communication to hopefully prevent conflicting information going out to the public.

Another major concern is the Bear Fire, burning and growing in the same drainage as the Claremont, but 7 miles away posing a dual threat to Meadow Valley and Bucks Lake. The Forest Service has been letting it burn, and prioritizing those fires that are an immediate threat to people and property. “I’m concerned about the Bear and where it goes,” Johns said.

Typically a jurisdiction is dealing with one fire at a time, certainly not a situation where there are multiple fires (Iron, Copper, Loyalton, Claremont) that all forced evacuations. Resources are spread thin — both with firefighting capabilities and with law enforcement.

“So far my folks have been amazing,” he said. His staff have gone door to door evacuating people, are patrolling evacuated neighborhoods, helping with traffic control and other fire-related duties. Johns is working closely with the CHP to provide around-the-clock patrol shifts of neighborhoods. Law enforcement from Fish and Wildlife and the Forest Service are also assisting, and Johns is relying on fellow sheriff’s officers Chad Hermann and Carson Wingfield. Johns singled out Alex Saez for his work at animal control and Willow Vierra at the fairgrounds for their work with the approximately 300 animals that have been evacuated. “I couldn’t ask for more from anyone,” he said.

Johns said he also wanted to thank the community for their cooperation and understanding. He knows how difficult it is to be displaced and the real concern that exists that the fire could spread like other fires in recent memory. He said that he and the Forest Service are focused on protecting the county’s residents and their property to prevent that from happening.

 

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