Scott Graves
Curry Coastal Pilot

Several flare ups and the return of smoky skies over Brookings Tuesday morning was a reminder that the Chetco Bar Fire, although 97 percent contained, is still keeping firefighters on guard.

The flare ups were miles away from inhabited areas and posed no threat to homes, officials said .

The smoke was not related to the massive conflagration that has, so far, burned more than 1,500 structures in Santa Rosa, California, nor other fires in Napa and Humboldt counties.

Dry, windy weather on Sunday and Monday fanned smouldering ground fires inside the Chetco Bar Fire perimeter, and fire crews on Tuesday were on scene to contain the flames, said Public Information Officer Dev Khalsa.

“These are in areas within the fire’s perimeter that have been smouldering for weeks,” Khalsa said.

One area is within the Wheeler Creek area, bordered by Forest Service Road #1205 and #240, about 8 miles east of Brookings. The other area is deep in Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest on the west side of Red Mountain, he said.

Residents can expect to see more fire crews using South Bank Chetco River Road to reach the Wheeler Creek drainage area today. Two 20-member hand crews, support engines and a chippper responded to the flare-ups.

Khalsa said data from an infrared flight late Saturday night revealed a pocket of dispersed heat in the area, caused by a low intensity ground fire that has been creeping and smoldering in the thick leaf litter on the forest floor.

Most of the work this week still involves mop-up and chipping debris, although the 100 or so firefighters who remain are dousing hot spots that have rekindled or appeared after slowly smoldering in the dry forest duff, Khalsa said.

As of Tuesday morning, the Chetco Bar Fire had burned about 191,000 acres.

The original containment date, based on assumptions about the rainy season beginning, have also been changed from Oct. 15 to Oct. 30. A cold front moved in Tuesday, and scattered rain showers are forecast for later this week.

“It isn’t enough rain to end it entirely; that won’t happen until the first significant rain falls,” Khalsa said.

A Burned Area Emergency Response team comprised of biologists, foresters and others have been scouring the fire scar to determine the best way to rehabilitate the land. Results are expected to be complete tomorrow (Oct. 12) and submitted to the Forest Service next week.

The team assesses watersheds for post-fire rain-related impacts such as flooding, debris flow potential and increased soil erosion, with a goal of minimizing threats to life or property and stabilize the area to its natural state.

Any recommendations made by the team will be done within a year and can be monitored for another three years.