Sept. 4 Dixie Fire p.m. update: Some people go home; some fear they will still lose theirs

Editor’s note: As we were preparing to post this story, numerous other news outlets began reporting that there was a firefighter death on the Dixie Fire. A Lassen National Forest Service firefighter assigned to the fire died this week due to an illness, but it was not related to fire fighting on the Dixie.

By Michael Condon

Former Fire and Aviation Chief for the Plumas National Forest

Special to Plumas News

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The Dixie Fire covers a vast area.  Over most of the area firefighters have the upper hand.  The fire is being tamed.  The fire is cooling down and evacuations are being lifted.

That is not much comfort to the residents of Dixie Valley, Portola, and the other smaller communities along Highway 70 in southern Plumas County.  Nor is it any comfort to residents in Lassen County along Highway 395 in the communities of Milford, Herlong, and Doyle.  Several homes in Doyle were lost in June when the Sugar Fire burned into town.  Now the Dixie Fire although still nearly ten miles away, is too close for comfort.

There are currently two primary areas of concern on the Dixie Fire.  One is near Dixie Valley and the other is the escarpment above Highway 395 at the Herlong Junction.

A fleet of airtankers worked through the afternoon today holding the fire on the escarpment.  Some of the airtankers were larger C-130’s and DC-10’s.  Others were more nimble like the “Super Soopers” that were getting water out of nearby Frenchman Lake.

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Firefighters have constructed fire lines on either side of the fire on the escarpment.  They are prepositioned to deal with the fire and protect structures along Highway 395 should the fire make it that far.

The other big concern is the two fingers that burned between Clover Valley and Dixie Valley. One was in the Coyote Hills and the other was a few miles further southeast on Horton Ridge.  That fire was active today.  Further spread to the south could threaten Lake Davis and, further to the south, Portola.

Fire crews succeeded in getting fire line around the head of the Coyote Hills finger and have tied that fire line into the Horton Ridge finger.

Firefighters worked to extend their fire line around the head of the Horton Ridge finger and up the east flank. Before they were able to complete that line, the fire spotted and burned to the south.  Firefighters were not able to stop it, but hope to catch it as the fire behavior moderates over night.

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On the opposite end of the fire, crews were kept busy chasing numerous spot fires in the northeast corner of the fire.  West Zone Operations Section Chief Tony Brownell admitted that while the fire remains south of Highway 44, it is “still very touch and go out there”.

Crews were still at work today in Genesee Valley mopping up around structures.  Their goal is to mop up a minimum of 100 feet around every structure.

Crews are also feeling good about Janesville as the fire lines between Janesville and the fire are completed and holding and structure protection measure have been in place for several days.

The other big success story in Grizzly Ridge.  That area is cooling down and is plumbed with an extensive fire hose system to facilitate mop up.  That is a big relief to residents from Quincy to Cromberg.

The fire continues to burn in the Devils Punch Bowl just south of Janesville.  Fire crews have lines in place to protect Janesville but they are letting the fire burn down the steep ridge before they engage it.

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Winds will continue to be light for the next two days.  Relative humidity recovery overnight will be poor and humidity during the day will drop into the single digit range keeping fuel moisture at historically dry levels.

Incident Commander Evans Kuo shared some interesting observations about fuel moisture conditions at the Saturday night community briefing.  Evans said what we all know to be true. Even under the most favorable winds, the Dixie fire continues burning with very high intensity with frequent spotting and very rapid rates of spread because the fuel is so dry.  It is an understatement to say this fire is challenging firefighters like few fires have.  They are making progress, but not as fast as they would like.

The Dixie Fire is now 889,001 acres in size.  That makes the Dixie Fire the second largest wildfire in California history.  (The largest one was just two years ago.) The fire is 56 percent contained;  680 single family residences have been destroyed and another 52 residences damaged.

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