By Michael Condon
Former Fire and Aviation Chief for the Plumas National Forest
Special to Plumas News
Overall, the fire activity on the Dixie Fire was less than it has been for many days. Still, there were a few areas where the fire was very active, especially as the winds increased and the smoke lifted this afternoon.
Highway 44 was closed in Lassen County due to a spot fire just south of the Bogard rest area. This spot fire started yesterday and took off again this afternoon when the winds came up. Ground crews, choppers, and tankers are all working in the area. As of this evening, Operations Section Chief Tony Brownell reports that crews have the north end of the fire lined, the winds have reversed blowing the fire back in on itself and they expect to have line around the south end of the fire tonight.
This spot fire is typical of what firefighters have been battling for days and will likely continue battling into the future: Firefighters attack a piece of the fire. They knock it down and stop the spread. And while they are mopping it up in one area, it crosses the line in another area and they start all over again.
The fire is still very active from the Lassen Volcanic National Park along the Pacific Coast Trail and up to the Hat Creek drainage and Badger Flats. Firefighters have been working to build line around this area for several days and are hopeful they will complete that section of line tonight according to Chief Brownell.
The southeast corner of the fire continues to burn actively. Firefighters face many challenges including very steep rocky terrain, dry, hot and breezy weather, and extremely dry receptive fuels.
Today, ground crews, supported by 14 helicopters, 6 scoopers, and 2 VLATs, strengthened containment lines, searched for spot fires around structures, and used water to extinguish spots and cool down hot areas.
Firefighters were able to stop the spread of the fire into the north end of Dixie Valley today. There was some structure loss in the area yesterday. More details will be available once damage assessment teams have completed their work.
Hand crews and heavy equipment built direct line along the fire’s edge on Horton Ridge and connected that line into the Sugar Fire scar. This line has stopped further fire spread to the south.
Crews still have lots of work to do strengthening the line and cooling the fire’s edge before they can be comfortable it will continue to hold according to East Zone Operations Section Chief Jeff Surber.
In addition to the line that is currently holding the fire, at least four dozer contingency lines have been constructed south of Dixie Valley to provide further protection. Structure protection crews remained active in Dixie Valley and Grizzly Heights.
Much of the fire north of Dixie Valley in the Dixie Mountain State Game Refuge has burned into the Sugar Fire scar. Containment lines in the Coyote Hills, Turner Ridge, and Grizzly Ridge are all holding, cooling down as crews continue to reinforce lines and cool interior hot spots.
The fire continues to back down the escarpment. The fire became a little more active today as the winds increased into the afternoon band evening making it necessary to close Highway 395 in the fire area. The fire on the escarpment is still within the box of control lines fire fighters have constructed.
Chief Surber outlined a plan for making that containment box along the escarpment considerably smaller. Tomorrow, four additional hot shot crews will be arriving. These crews will be given the assignment of building hand-line off of the escarpment along the northern edge of the fire. To the south of the fire backing down the escarpment, crews will attempt to construct a dozer line that will cut off further spread in that direction. In addition to keeping about 1,500 acres from burning, this will allow firefighters the opportunity to complete operations on the escarpment sooner and hopefully avoid changing winds that could increase fire behavior.
Firefighters reinforced control lines around the 40-acre spot-fire yesterday near Squaw Peak.
South of Taylorsville, crews continue to moderate fire behavior in the Devils Punch Bowl with helicopter water drops as they reinforce containment lines. This piece of the fire is a source of concern to residents because Taylorsville will remain in mandatory evacuation status until the fire in Devil’s Punch Bowl can be secured.
Crews continue to mop up hot spots near structures in Genesee Valley, progressing farther and farther from the structures into the fire interior.
The west side of the fire is looking very good. An aircraft equipped with heat detecting infrared cameras flew the area between Highway 70, where the fire started, and Butte Meadows today. It did not detect any heat. Fire crews will continue to patrol the area.
Over the past week the Caldor Fire burning near Lake Tahoe replaced the Dixie Fire as the number one priority fire in the nation. The threat to Lake Tahoe has been reduced and the Dixie Fire has reclaimed its status as the number one priority fire in the nation. This will improve the availability of resources for fire managers.
The four hot shot crews arriving tomorrow is hopefully just the first installment of increasing resources. The amount of fire line, much of it still holding heat and not yet mopped up, is just too much for the current complement of resources to deal with. More resources are essential if firefighters are going to put this beast to bed without any more catastrophic losses.
The Dixie Fire is currently 914,655 acres; the largest single fire in the history of California. Containment is 57 percent.