By Michael Condon
Former Fire and Aviation Chief on the Plumas National Forest
Special to Plumas News
Firefighters enjoyed a fairly successful day today on the Dixie Fire. As of 7:30 this evening, the fire had moved to the edge of the escarpment and was holding there thanks to a heavy retardant line laid down by several airtankers.
Firefighters are working to hold the fire there, but it is still spreading to the east along the top of the escarpment. Incident Commander Evans Kuo said there is a good chance the fire will eventually burn down the escarpment.
Firefighters are ready for that possibility with a large number of resources pre-positioned at the base of the escarpment. Evans said it would be better if the fire burned down the ridge at night when there is less chance for the extreme fire behavior the escarpment is known for.
In the southwest corner of the fire, crews continue mopping up Grizzly Ridge and the fire line that connects the ridge to the northwest corner of Lake Davis. That line is all holding and the fire activity was much less today than yesterday.
To the east of Lake Davis, fire crews and dozers managed to complete a difficult fire line around the fire burning on Turner Ridge. This effort was supported by numerous aircraft including water scooping airtankers that were able to get water from Lake Davis, a very short flight away. There is much mop up to be done on Turner Ridge, but this was a major step in reducing the risk of fire spread towards Portola and Beckwourth.
A small army of dozers, supported by engines, crews, and an occasional air tanker worked through the day building line along the south edge of the fire from Turner ridge to Clover Valley, and from there to Dixie Valley and beyond. They were constantly challenged by winds that blew more westerly today causing numerous spot fires and slop-overs along the southeast flank of the fire. Most of that line is holding, but there was fire growth along that southeast flank closer to the head of the fire.
Engine companies continue to work on structure protection in both Clover and Dixie Valleys.
The fire was a bit less active on the north end today thanks to lighter wind speed. The main challenge in the northwest corner in Shasta County has been the very large number of standing snags that resulted from a recent fire. These snags are weak and are very prone to falling, making it dangerous for crews to work close to the fire’s edge. Fire managers have decided to bring in some heavy equipment to address the snag safety issue.
The fire was less active today on the northeast corner of the fire in in Lassen County. Crews made good progress and the fire is holding within their fire lines and remains south of Highway 44.
The fire is actually looking good over much of the vast area burnt by the fire. After several days of being tested by strong winds, nearly all the fire lines have remained secure.
Sheriffs in Butte, Tehama, and Plumas Counties have reduced or eliminated evacuations orders.
Evacuation orders have been reduced to warnings in areas north of Chester including Echo Lake, Stover Mountain, and Swain Mountain. Warner Valley remains under an evacuation order until hazard reduction work can be completed.
Evacuations warnings were lifted in all of Tehama County including the communities of Mineral and Mill Creek. Firefighters should feel particularly good about having kept the fire out of the Mill Creek Drainage. Had the fire gotten established there, we might be looking at a significantly larger fire now.
Butte County canceled their last evacuation warnings earlier this week.
Despite today’s progress, firefighters will face significant challenges tomorrow. The winds, which have blown out of the southwest for the past several days will shift to the north tonight and will be blowing out of the east by morning.
Initially the winds will be fairy strong, blowing as much as 20 mph. As the day progresses, the wind speed will drop and the direction will be variable as the diurnal up-canyon wind mixes with the easterly gradient wind. This will cause wind speed to be light but the wind direction will be quite variable.
The east winds in the morning will test lines that have not yet been tested by a strong east wind.
Grizzly Ridge has a very long expanse of line that could be vulnerable to the east wind. It is not uncommon in a situation like this for a piece of fire line that has been very quiet for several days to spring back to life. Do not be surprised if this happens tomorrow. Firefighters have not had enough time to do thorough mop up on the many miles of fire line, especially those that were just built this week.
Tomorrow may be a very busy morning, especially with fuels as dry as they are.
The Dixie Fire has grown to 865,703, an increase of a little over 6,000 acres since this morning.