Firefighters made impressive ground on the wildfires burning in eastern Curry County last weekend and through Monday, bringing containment levels from 60 percent to 95 percent on the Taylor Creek Fire Sunday, and from 15 percent to 32 percent on the Klondike Fire.
“The probability of success has improved with assistance from (other) resources and being able to allocate more resources to the effort,” the U.S. Forest Service’s inciweb fire-reporting website reads.
Illinois Valley Fire Chief Dennis Hoke agreed.
“At the community meeting (Monday night) I stated we have not turned the corner on this fire yet,” he said. “Today I can say I see the corner coming up.”
They used 50,000 gallons of retardant and 30,000 gallons of gel to turn the fire back into the Chetco Bar fire scar and Tuesday worked to hold and reinforce that line.
“This is good news,” Hoke said, but added the next few days will be cooler, and winds will push it to the southeast and test those lines.
Bear Camp Road is now open after being closed for almost three weeks due to falling trees, debris on the road and road damage. Anyone using it is advised to use extreme caution and be aware they might encounter firefighting equipment.
Firefighting management teams were split into two last Friday, with crews in Selma and lead by the Alaska Incident Team fighting the Taylor Creek Fire and the newly-named Klondike East Fire.
The Klondike West Fire is being fought by a California team based in Gold Beach and is burning on the fire scars of the 2002 Biscuit, 2014 Onion Mountain and 2017 Chetco Bar wildfires. The Onion Mountain and Chetco Bar fire scars, being newer, are helping firefighters contain the Klondike Fire, but dry, dense brush, is helping it actively burn in the Biscuit Fire scar.
Dry, hot weather in the rugged terrain over the weekend contributed to the spread of both fires, with the Klondike growing by 3,800 acres Sunday, to 72,024 acres. It has started actively burning in the scar of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, where plants have regrown, officials said. The western edge of the fire is “bumping up against” the blackened land of last year’s Chetco Bar Fire, which firefighters hope to use to contain it.
Tuesday afternoon, spot fires jumped Silver Creek on the north side of Bald Mountain, as well.
Shrubs, grasses and needles and leaves are “critically dry,” the report reads, with plants with 30 percent moisture levels and live trees at about 75 percent.
“Lichen and moss is dry enough to act as a ladder fuel in most of the timber,” the report reads.
The most active burning occurred overnight Sunday on the southeast corner of the Klondike East Fire due to low overnight humidity. And Monday, fire was more active on the northwest flank.
“As smoke is cleared by winds, and terrain and fuels align, fire spread is very active — potential rates of spread through brush are 70 feet per minute, with flame lengths of 10 feet,” the inciweb report reads. “The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire demonstrated much slower spread rates.”
The fires will remain active at night due to low humidity and wind gusts, which are expected to push the fire farther to the south and southwest.
And a spot fire southwest of the Klondike Fire has developed into what is being called on some maps the Granite Fire; while large, it has yet to be differentiated from the Klondike Fire and is not yet acknowledged on the inciweb site.
The fire line continues to hold along the west side of the Taylor Creek Fire as firefighters mop up from Bear Camp Road to the Flat Top Road area, fire officials said. Brush clearing continued from Flat Top Road to Chinaman Hat Sunday. Crews continued constructing about 4 miles of indirect line along Flat Top and Chinaman Hat Roads Tuesday.
Yet a bulge in the fire’s edge between Chinaman Hat and Bald Mountain at the northwest flank became more active due to clear air and drier conditions. The fire burned into Silver Creek to the confluence of the South Fork.
Crews are also preparing a contingency line along the Hardscrabble Road system to the Illinois River and south down the river. This line is a precaution in case the fire must be corralled and pushed down to the Chetco Bar Fire scar, the website reads.
Gold Beach fire camp
Fire operations crews are also settling into their new base in Docia Sweet Hall at the Curry County Fairgrounds in Gold Beach, and tents are pitched throughout the facility.
“On Friday (Aug. 17), it became clear that fire camp would be here,” said Nikki Sparks, manager of the Event Center on the Beach, “and it would be for an indefinite period of time.”
The relocation of the fire camp from Selma will make it easier to fight both fires from the west.
According to Eric Coughran, public information officer at Gold Beach, crews and equipment working near Agness were being transported from Selma north and then west along Bear Camp Road.
“But since the Taylor Creek Fire has burned to that road, the falling snags and the slides are making that route dangerous and undependable,” he explained.
“This is the fifth fire camp here,” said former fairground Manager Ron Crook. “The first one was for the Biscuit Fire in 2002, followed by the Collier Butte Fire in 2014. In 2017, it was for the Chetco Bar Fire and this year, the Lobster Creek Fire occupied much of the grounds and buildings for several weeks right up until only a few days before everything began arriving for the Curry County Fair on July 25.”
“After providing facilities for evacuees during the flooding of the Hunter Creek area and two fire camps,” Crook continued, “the Curry County Fair Board approved a policy designating these facilities as an emergency site for city, county, state and federal agencies, and determined that emergency use will be the number one priority.”