Firefighters pin hopes on weather forecast while battling Smith River Complex
(CN) — Firefighters battling the Smith River Complex, a series of fires in Northern California and southern Oregon, see help in the changing weather.
The complex, a series of fires that began midmonth with a lightning strike, has led to evacuations in both states and air quality issues across the North State. The blazes in the Six Rivers National Forest covered just under 84,000 acres on Thursday, or around 131 square miles.
“There was a lightning strike that took place,” said John Helmich, information officer with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 2, of the Aug. 15 incident. “A storm went through the area, and it started multiple fires."
The complex was at 8% containment Thursday morning, with 3,053 people working the blaze at that time, Helmich said.
Four minor injuries have been reported, he added. Eric Waters, deputy lead public information officer for Northwest Team 13, said one building was reported destroyed last week by the fire.
Within the confines of the federal land are private properties, as is the case with many national forests. Helmich had no reports that any private buildings were damaged or destroyed.
The U.S. Forest Service said Six Rivers National Forest saw some 150 lightning strikes, leading to several fires.
Firefighters have had issues attacking the complex from the air, but that’s expected to change.
“Smoke has been so significant that air resources haven’t been able to help,” Helmich said. “They have sporadically, but not consistently, over the past several days.”
Weather forecasts called for a chance of midday rain Thursday, with stronger rain chances Friday and Saturday. Relative humidity will be in the 30% range. The winds are anticipated to push active zones back onto the fire.
Winds pushing smoke out of the fires’ west side, a spot with significant activity, will enable firefighters to get into the air, Helmich said.
Firefighters are also needed on the ground to assist those in the air dropping water and retardant.
Waters, working the fire on the northern side, said he’s anticipating “great progress” against the fire. Wednesday saw firefighters on the ground receiving help from fixed- and rotor-wing aircraft.
According to Waters, a growth of 2 feet to the fire’s footprint would be “huge,” and firefighters are working to ensure that doesn’t happen. Some parts of the perimeter are stable, while others are more active.
Complete containment of the complex is forecast for Dec. 1, a conservative estimate, Helmich said.
“That is very conservative, but they have to be conservative when they do these types of estimates,” he added.
The Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services has been updating residents through its Facebook page. It’s informed them about air quality, evacuations and road closures, among other information.
On Tuesday, the Del Norte Public Health Department announced it had opened two clean air shelters in Crescent City, where coffee, water, snacks and N95 masks were available.
Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday issued a state of emergency for Del Norte County because of the Smith River Complex, as well as for Siskiyou County for its Happy Camp Complex. The Happy Camp Complex was 45% contained and at 25,500 acres on Thursday.
The governor’s proclamation waives some licensing requirements for out-of-state workers and others who are working to restore power. It also relaxes access to unemployment benefits and waives fees for replacing driver’s licenses and certain records like marriage and birth certificates.
Several agencies are working the Smith River Complex, including the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management, as well as private and state resources.