Temperatures in the 80s and 90s and high winds along mountain ridges are expected to drive the West Klondike Fire in the next few days, U.S. Forest Service fire officials in Gold Beach said Tuesday afternoon.
“These conditions pose a challenge to fire crews, along with steep terrain, extreme fire behavior and dry fuels,” the Joint Incident Command daily report said. “Weather conditions will be favorable for high fire activity.”
The 112,307-acre megafire has halved the miles between its front flank and the town of Agness, to an estimated 6 miles. It is 20 miles east of Gold Beach and about seven miles from the western edge of the Taylor Creek Fire.
Agness remains on Level 2 “Be Ready” alert status. A community meeting will be held at 5 at the Agness library on Cougar Lane tonight.
This week’s plans
The fire has primarily been simmering along its edges in steep and craggy terrain filled with dense fuel.
In the next 24 hours, “active to very active” fire behavior is expected to continue, but a changing weather pattern might increase the humidity somewhat, the reports read. And in the next 48 hours, decreasing winds are hoped to reduce fire activity for the short term.
Adverse conditions halted back-firing operations near Agness, fire officials said, so using historic fire lines and an old road in the area will offer them the next-best option to slow fire growth to the west. Opening these lines with heavy equipment and crews, along with reinforcement by aerial resources has a high chance of success in slowing the fire spread, the report reads.
On the northeast side of the fire, south of Silver Ridge, crews are looking for access points to begin line construction to keep the fire’s easterly spread in check.
According to Operation Section Chief Mark Jamieson, the Klondike Fire is getting close to Indigo Creek, so crews are working to reduce the amount of fuel around it. They are also protecting buildings in Agness and completing a contingency line to the west.
Clear skies over the weekend enabled aerial operations to dump copious amounts of retardant to keep the fire from reaching Agness, Jamieson said.
“Rotor wing aircraft (helicopters) will continue to check (the fire) spread to the north toward Indigo Creek,” he added, noting that burnout operations will begin anew when it is safe to do so.
Exacerbating extinguishment plans are fuels in the path of the Klondike Fire, which changes as the fire crosses historic wildfire scars, including the 2002 Biscuit and 2017 Chetco Bar fires, said fire official Jon Walters.
While fuels in the Chetco Bar Fire are light, the fuels in the Biscuit Fire have regrown.
“In a lot of areas where that fire burned with high intensity, brush has come back, and that’s what’s burning intensely in the Klondike Fire,” Walters said. “And where they had mixed (fire) intensity, a lot of forest fuels were still out there. They had 15, 16, 17 years to build up, and it’s ready to burn again. That’s what the Klondike Fire is living on — a lot of the remnant fuels and the fuels that have come back since then.”
The changing wind, too, is expected to push smoke into nearby communities when the fires become more active.
“Expect to see smoke activity increasing throughout the day as unburned fuel in the interior of the fires becomes more active,” the report reads. “Until seasonal rains arrive, stumps, logs and other ground fuels will continue to produce visible smokes on the interior of all of the fires.”
A year ago, Curry County was still in the choking throes of smoke and fire. But this summer, barring any other fire starts or adverse weather, fire officials are already gearing up for the recovery phase of operations, said Scott Smith, an operations section chief trainee with the Pacific Northwest Team.
First, he said, is the repair plan, which involves restoring the dozer lines created to access and block the fire’s path. The goal is to mitigate future and current damage due to fire suppression efforts, reports read.
The work will include building water bars to prevent erosion, softening the angles of the berms and possibly reseeding those lines with grasses and forbs and straw mulch to prevent the seeds from washing away in the next storm.
That alone is a lot of work, as there are more than 100 miles of dozer line and another 10 of hand-built line to rehabilitate.
“Resource advisors” will be embedded with that team to offer their expertise that will contribute to the second part of the recovery: The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team. That group will evaluate the extent of damage to everything — much as it did after the Chetco Bar Fire — from the trees to the local economy.
Fire officials hope to be able to conduct that work before the first storm of winter arrives, usually in October.
The last phase is to implement long-term rehabilitation work, particularly “things that won’t fix themselves,” fire officials said in a briefing Tuesday morning. That includes infrastructure such as bridges, trails and interpretive sites.
Long-term monitoring will also determine what plant species return first. Some officials noted after the Chetco Bar Fire that tanoak was among the first to return — but it has yet to be determined if the Sudden Oak Death pathogen that has plagued it for so long will survive, as well.
The fire season in the West peaked in August, according to the latest outlook published Sept. 1 by the National Interagency Fire Center, and some areas are beginning a normal transition to cooler, calmer autumn conditions.
“With that said, several large portions of Western states will maintain dangerous wildfire conditions for the next 30 days or so,” the report continues. “This includes Western Oregon, Eastern Washington, Northern California and parts of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.”
Klondike Fire: 112,307 acres; 42 percent contained, 1,226 personnel
Taylor Creek Fire: 52,839 acres, 95 percent contained, 82 personnel