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Recovery ongoing as Caldor Fire devastates landscape

Only a chimney remains from a cabin on Echo Summit that overlooks Christmas Valley and Highway 89.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Caldor Fire burned hottest in decimated communities, and the landscape has dramatically changed on the main highway leading to South Lake Tahoe.

Blackened earth, scorched trees and burned homes are prominent alongside Highway 50, from Echo Summit to Kyburz.

Nothing remains of a cabin on Echo Summit overlooking the Tahoe Basin.
Bill Rozak

The U.S. Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response Team recently completed data gathering and analysis of the Caldor Fire-burned area to produce a soil burn severity map of the 219,578-acre, 76% contained blaze.

The map and data display soil burn severity categories: unburned/very low, low, moderate, and high. Approximately half of the acreage of the fire (47%) is either unburned/very low or low, while 40% sustained moderate and about 13% high.

The Caldor Fire decimated the landscape in areas on Echo Summit.
Bill Rozak

While the fire didn’t burn the hottest on Echo Summit, according to the map, many of the cabins overlooking the basin are no longer there. The fire reduced them to rubble.

Many work crews had chainsaws fired up in the forest beside Highway 50 on Tuesday. The highway was fully reopened at 8 a.m. that day for the first time since Aug. 20, and vehicles shortly afterward started streaming into the basin.

Highway 50 was fully reopened on Tuesday.
Bill Rozak

SOIL BURN SEVERITY

The severity map shows the fire burning hottest in the decimated Grizzly Flats community, where hundreds of homes were lost; and along Highway 50, where houses were destroyed on both sides of the highway in Phillips near Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Burned Area Emergency Response Teams are multi-disciplinary teams sent to federal lands following significant wildfires to characterize a fire’s effects to watersheds, identify imminent post-fire threats to human life and safety, property, infrastructure, and critical natural and cultural resources. The team assesses the effects to soils, not vegetation. Soil burn severity characterizes the effects at the soil surface and below ground, whereas vegetation effects are determined based on mortality and vegetation canopy changes.

A stone wall and charred remains are all that is left of a cabin alongside Highway 50.
Bill Rozak

Once the assessment is done, the team develops emergency treatment recommendations to mitigate identified risks. Teams then implement recommended treatments and action stabilization measures.

These teams begin their assessment immediately after the fire threat passes. They focus on the direct damage caused by the fire, rather than from fire suppression activities. Post-fire conditions such as loss of vegetation and the changes in the soils will increase the likelihood of floods and may cause potential debris and sediment flow impacts.

For complex fires such as the Caldor Fire, assessments are done as an interagency effort that includes a California State Watershed Emergency Response Team. The Cal Fire WERT team is evaluating burned private and state lands from the fire. Both teams share information as they complete their evaluations, analysis and subsequent reports.

Power lines hold up a pole that was destroyed by fire.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Changes in factors like soil cover and biological changes determine the level of soil burn severity. Changes in water repellency is a much-discussed fire effect. Fire can increase the severity and the thickness of the water-repellent soil, which has significant effects on post-fire water runoff.

Low soil burn severity indicates there was only partial consumption of fine fuels while litter coverage remains relatively intact on the soil surface. Burning time at the soil surface was short, leaving root systems and root structure undamaged. Vegetative recovery time in the low category will vary based on ecological community, but is expected to recover in the short term.

Work crews fell burned tress in the Echo Summit area.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Moderate soil burn severity indicates nearly all soil cover of vegetative litter and fine fuels was consumed or converted to ash. Because soil cover is significantly reduced, accelerated water runoff is expected. Charring of the mineral soil occurs in moderate soil burn severity as well as shallow root burning. The extent of the burning of the leaves and needles on the trees can be unpredictable and can range from high to relatively low mortality.

High soil burn severity is the result of higher intensity fire behavior or longer burning time at the soil surface. As a result of the high heat, nearly all the soil cover of vegetative litter and fuels has been consumed, leaving bare soil prone to the impacts of precipitation and resulting water runoff.

A screenshot of the soil burn severity map.
Provided

“Everyone near and downstream from the burned areas should remain alert and stay updated on weather conditions that may result in heavy rains over the burn scars,” a press release states. “Flash flooding may occur quickly during heavy rain events, be prepared to take action.”

For weather and emergency notifications, visit the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov/sto.

Bill Rozak is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of The Union

Charred remains of a cabin overlooking the Tahoe Basin.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune
The Caldor Fire continues to burn and smoke fills the sky on Tuesday.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune
A worker among the rubble on Echo Summit watches on Tuesday as a large tree is felled. The Caldor burn scar is visible in the background on the other side of Highway 89.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Cal Fire: Bridge Fire latest local fire to be human-caused

Firefighters work an operation to burn fire fuels ahead of the head of the Bennett Fire last month near Whispering Pines Lane.

The three biggest fires to impact Nevada County residents this fire season, so far, were caused by humans, according to Cal Fire officials.

The River, Bennett and Bridge fires have burned roughly 3,089 acres in the region between August and September. Cal Fire determined all three fires were caused by humans, declaring the Bridge Fire arson on Tuesday.

BRIDGE FIRE

The fire began in the Auburn State Recreation Area around 1 p.m. Sept. 5, near the Foresthill Bridge. While no residences were threatened, visitors to Lake Clementine were evacuated.

The fire was contained at 411 acres on Sept. 14, about nine days after it began.

The Bridge Fire on Sept. 5.
Submitted by Lauren Rice

BENNETT FIRE

Perhaps Grass Valley’s closest call with wildfire this season was the Bennett Fire, which caused 7,000 residents to either evacuate or be under evacuation or shelter-in place advisories.

The fire began in the area of East Bennett Road and Whispering Pines around 3:30 p.m. Aug. 25, and burned approximately 59 acres. The fire was contained Aug. 29.

Cal Fire determined the Bennett Fire was human caused on Sept. 12, and started along the roadway in two separate locations of East Bennett Road in Grass Valley.

Trees torch and vegetation burns while a Cal Fire captain works near the intersection of Whispering Pines Lane and Centennial Drive following the start of the Bennett Fire, which originated near East Bennett Road and Lava Rock Avenue.

RIVER FIRE

Nevada County’s most destructive fire, the River Fire, destroyed 142 structures between Nevada and Placer counties. The fire began around 2 p.m. Aug. 4 and burned a total of 2,619 acres before containment was achieved Aug. 13.

On Sept. 10, Cal Fire announced the fire was human caused and started in the overnight camping area of the Bear River Campground.

A pair of horses are evacuated along Dog Bar Road from the River Fire.

 

Bridge Fire caused by arson, Cal Fire says

The Bridge Fire , which started on Sept. 5 and burned 411 acres in the Auburn State Recreation Area, was caused by arson, Cal Fire said.

“This is an active case and Cal Fire Law Enforcement continues to work on determining the specific details leading to the cause of the fire,” Cal Fire wrote in a press release.

Anyone with information about the Bridge Fire should contact 1-800-468-4408, Cal Fire’s arson hotline.


FILE — Bridge Fire on September 5.
Submitted by Lauren Rice

Carriage Fire contained within 1 hour (Video)

The fire that plumed smoke near the Dew Drop Inn on Monday was contained within the hour by the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, reports state.

Per the California Highway Patrol website, a grass fire was reported near a residence at Lady Bird Lane and Highway 49 at 1:54 p.m.

One residence was burned before responding units were able to extinguish the quarter-acre Carriage Fire.

“There were four residents cleared from the structure,“ said Mary Eldridge, public information officer for the Cal Fire unit

According Eldridge, the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Firefighters will patrol the burnt region into the evening to abate any threat left still smoldering.

According to the National Weather Service, the Red Flag Warning that began Monday will remain in place until tonight. The service forecasts another high risk day to take place Thursday.

To the south in El Dorado and Amador counties, the Caldor Fire is 75% contained after burning 219,101 acres and destroying 782 structures over six weeks.

The Dixie Fire that spanned Butte, Plumas, Tehama, Shasta and Lassen counties to the north is nearing 1 million acres burned, with 963,415 acres consumed after nine weeks of activity.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Man arrested for arson in Placer County


Source: Cal Fire

Tahoe National Forest reopens, fire restrictions revised

From a release:

The USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region has rescinded the Regional Closure Order affecting all National Forests in California including the Tahoe National Forest as of Sept. 15 at 11:59 p.m.

To protect natural resources and provide for public safety, the Tahoe National Forest has revised fire restrictions and implemented a new, temporary closure order on dispersed camping and target shooting effective Thursday, Sept., 16, 2021, through Nov. 1, 2021.

This Forest Order prohibits the following activities across the Tahoe National Forest:

No building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire.

The use of a portable lantern or stove using gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel within a Developed Recreation Site (such as an official campground listed below) is allowed. A valid California Campfire Permit is required.

While popular activities such as hunting, hiking, boating, and other types of general recreation are now allowed across the Tahoe National Forest, Dispersed camping and Target Shooting prohibitions have been extended through Nov. 1, 2021. These prohibitions include:

No camping outside of developed campgrounds. A list of open, developed campgrounds is provided below. There is one exception to this prohibition:

Dispersed camping within 300 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail is allowed.

No target shooting. Discharging a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun, except while engaged in a lawful hunt pursuant to state, and federal law and regulations, is prohibited.

Developed Recreation Sites

The following campgrounds are open and available to use stoves with a California Campfire Permit.

YUBA RIVER RANGER DISTRICT

RECREATION SITES

1. Berger Campground

2. Big Bend Campground

3. Cal Ida Campground

4. Camp Chrystalis

5. Canyon Creek Campground

6. Carlton Flat Campground

7. Carr/Feeley Lake Campground

8. China Flat Cabins

9. Convict Flat Day Use Area

10. Dark Day Campground/Day Use Area

11. Diablo Campground

12. High Sierra Schaffer Camp

13. Hornswoggle Campground

14. Fiddle Creek Campground

15. Fuller Lake Day Use Area

16. Hampshire Rocks Campground

17. Indian Springs Campground

18. Indian Valley Campground

19. Indian Valley Outpost

20. Jackson Creek Campground

21. Kokanee Cabins

22. Liahona Camp

23. Lindsey Lake Campground

24. Loganville Campground

25. Pack Saddle Campground

26. Packer Lake Day Use Area

27. Packer Lake Road Boy Scout Camp

28. Packer Lake Road Girl Scout Camp

29. Packer Lake Resort

30. Petra Spring Camp

31. Rocky Rest Campground

32. Rucker Lake Campground

33. San Francisco Field Campus

34. Sardine Campground

35. Sardine Lake Resort

36. Sand Pond Day Use Area

37. Salmon Creek Campground

38. Salmon Lake Resort

39. School House Campground

40. Skillman Campground

41. Sterling Lake Boy Scout Camp

42. Sterling Lake Campground

43. Union Flat Campground

44. White Cloud Campground

45. Wild Plum Campground

TRUCKEE RANGER DISTRICT

RECREATION SITES

1. Boca Campground

2. Boca Rest Campground

3. Boca Springs Campground

4. Boyington Mill Campground

5. Emigrant Group Campground

6. Goose Meadows Campground

7. Granite Flat Campground

8. Lakeside Campground

9. Logger Campground

10. Prosser Campground

11. Prosser Ranch Group Campground

12. Silver Creek Campground

AMERICAN RIVER RANGER DISTRICT

RECREATION SITES

1. Ahart Campground

2. Big Reservoir Campground

3. Brimstone OHV Staging Area

4. Coyote Group Campground

5. Forbes Creek Group Campground

6. French Meadows Campground

7. Gates Group Campground

8. Giant Gap Campground

9. Lewis Campground

10. Manzanita Day Use Picnic Area

11. Morning Star Campground

12. Parker Flat Staging Area

13. Shirttail Creek Campground

14. Sugar Pine Staging Area.

SIERRAVILE RANGER DISTRICT

RECREATION SITES

1. Aspen Group Campground

2. Cold Creek Campground

3. Cottonwood Campground

4. East Meadows Campground

5. Findley Campground

6. Fir Top Campground

7. Lower Little Truckee Campground

8. Meadow Lake Campground

9. Meadow Lake Group Campground

10. Meadow Lake Shore Shoreline Sites

11. Pass Creek Campground

12. Pass Creek Overflow Campground

13. Silver Tip Group Campground

14. Upper Little Truckee Campground

15. Woodcamp Campground

16. Wheeler Sheep Camp

Source: Tahoe National Forest

No growth on Caldor Fire despite poor weather conditions

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — While crews in the east zone of the Caldor Fire continue to have success, poor weather conditions outside of the Basin have posed a challenge for crews in the west zone.

On Monday, the area of Fallen Leaf Road from Tahoe Mountain Road to the end of Fallen Leaf Road was reduced to a warning.

Air support provided assistance near Trimmer Peak and around the Margret Lake area. Teams continued to work on suppression repair efforts in Christmas Valley, High Meadows, Old Pump Road, and Cold Creek.

Overnight, crews were able to patrol the perimeter and ensure the fire didn’t grow.

Despite the conditions, the fire had not grown from Monday to Tuesday morning. The fire was at 219,267 acres, and 68% contained.

“(On Tuesday), line construction and mop up will continue on uncontained fire edges northwest of Caples Lake, on the east side of Trimmer Peak as well as on the isolated heat in and near Desolation Wilderness,” the morning situation report stated.

However, in the west zone winds and day conditions allowed for increased fire activity Monday afternoon and into the night.

“Fuels continued to smolder and creep away from control lines. Large diameter dead and down fuels continued to smolder and burn. Steep and rugged terrain and critically dry fuel conditions have presented control challenges, slowing the construction of direct lines in some areas,” the morning report stated.

Crews are focused on mopping up and building more control lines as the poor weather conditions are forecast to continue for the next few days.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune is a sister publication of the Sierra Sun

Cal Fire awards $138M for fire prevention; Nevada County receives more than $1M

From a release:

As part of California’s strategy to reduce the size and severity of wildfires, Cal Fire announced it will direct nearly $138 million in funding for 105 local fire prevention projects across the state.

“This year, wildfires have once again been extremely severe and damaging, which only highlights our continued need to perform more community-based fire prevention projects,” said Chief Thomas Porter, Cal Fire director, in a news release. “Our wildfire and forest strategy includes funding these types of fire prevention projects to reduce the severity of wildfires and harden our communities.”

Cal Fire’s Fire Prevention Grants enable local organizations such as fire safe councils to implement activities that address the risk of wildfire and reduce wildfire potential for communities. Funded activities include fuel reduction, wildfire planning and fire prevention education. The projects meet the goals and objectives of California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan, as well as the state’s Strategic Fire Plan.

SOUTH COUNTY PROJECT

Nevada County received $1,038,230 for the “South County Shaded Fuel Break” project.

The South County Shaded Fuel Break is a 339-acre project and is slated to treat 226 parcels, valued at $169,369,752, which will serve as a vital wildfire holding point and key evacuation route for residents. The fuel break is strategically designed to provide egress for a highly populated wildland urban interface region, while providing firefighters a place to defend lives and property from a wildfire. Through fuels reduction on highly trafficked roadways, the aim is to avoid a severe wildfire altogether, thereby reducing greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Click here a complete list of 2021 Fire Prevention Grant recipients: https://www.fire.ca.gov/media/ruhkljgy/fy-2020-21-cci-fire-prevention-grant-recipient-list-accessible-9-9-2021.pdf

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 85 providing $536 million in early action funding to accelerate forest health, fire prevention and climate resiliency projects. Cal Fire worked swiftly to ensure this funding could be implemented on the ground as soon as possible.

The “early action funding” allocated $123 million for Cal Fire’s Fire Prevention Grant Program, including $50 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for California Climate Investments, with an additional $73 million coming from the state’s general fund.

California Climate Investments is a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities. An additional $14.8 million is being reallocated for grants from the department’s GGRF allocation from 2020-21 budget.

Source: Cal Fire

Cal Fire: Bennett Fire in Grass Valley was ‘human caused’

The Bennett Fire started in Nevada County on Aug. 25 at 3:31 p.m. and burned a total of 59.3 acres. The fire was 100% contained on Aug. 29.

Cal Fire investigators were immediately dispatched to the fire and began working to determine the origin and cause of the fire. This is a meticulous process requiring investigators to examine credible information to conclusively identify a factual cause.

It has been determined that the Bennett Fire is human caused and started along the roadway in two separate locations of East Bennett Road in Grass Valley. Investigators from the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, and Grass Valley Police Department are assisting Cal Fire investigators.

Cal Fire also recently determined that the River Fire, which burned 2,619 acres, also was human caused.

This is an active case and officials are asking for the public’s help for any additional information regarding suspicious vehicles seen on East Bennett Road at the time of the fire. Anyone with additional information regarding this investigation is encouraged to contact our Cal Fire Nevada Yuba Placer Investigation Bureau at 530-889-0111 extension 1021.

Source: Cal Fire

Lightning causes spot fires: Firefighters respond to handful of blazes after rainfall

Rain from Grass Valley’s thunderstorms Thursday night was not without cost, as Cal Fire’s Nevada-Placer-Yuba Unit on Friday continued to receive calls about fires started from lightning strikes across the region.

Public Information Officer Mary Eldridge said lightning strikes do not necessarily result in fire ignition right away. Struck trees can smolder for hours before turning to flame.

Eldridge did not have a total number of calls made since the storms began Thursday night, but expected the demand for fire response to continue into Saturday morning.

“We’re still rolling,” Eldridge said. “It might take time for people to see smoke from some of the (fires). That’s why we’re getting calls even though the lightning struck some time ago.”

Grass Valley saw about a tenth of an inch of rain Thursday night and Friday. In contrast, Blue Canyon, to the east, saw over three-fourths of an inch.

Eldridge said parts of her unit have also been dispatched to the Tahoe National Forest to extinguish any risk posed by smoldering remnants of the lightning strikes.

As many prepared their morning coffee, firefighters from the Nevada-Placer-Yuba County Unit subdued blazes in Granite Bay, the Peardale/Chicago Park area, as well as Dobbins in Yuba County.

“We still have one out on Iowa Hill that they’re looking at,” Eldridge said of a half-acre burn first responders quickly contained and were mopping up Friday afternoon.

Eldridge said the moisture and the regular “humidity recovery” afforded to the landscape in the mornings was mildly helpful to those fighting local sparks, and the 218,459-acre Caldor blaze to the southeast, as well.

“Precipitation also assisted them in continuing their suppression efforts,” Eldridge said of designated units responding to the El Dorado County fire that continues to burn. “(The moisture) slows the spread.”

CAUSE OF FIRE

After 26 days, the Caldor Fire is 56% contained. So far, first responders have steered the blaze away from high-value and highly populated areas of the California-Nevada state line. The cause of the fire that resulted in over 20,000 people’s evacuations is still undetermined.

Fire officials in western Nevada County announced that a preliminary investigation identifies a human cause for the 2,619-acre River Fire that began at the Bear River Campground Aug. 4.

Eldridge said although the investigation is ongoing, investigators identified a campfire spot as the origin point of the nine-day long burn that resulted in evacuations.

“If you look ahead of you it starts at the campsite, and if you turn around there’s nothing behind you,” Eldridge said. “The fire burned in the direction of the wind that blew.”

According to the National Weather Service, Friday’s winds called for a Red Flag Warning across the region until 11 p.m. that night.

Meteorologist Cory Mueller said the gusts were up to 20 miles per hour in Grass Valley and progressed upward with altitude into eastern county.

Mueller said that humidity would return to the 20% range for the next two evenings, offering marginal relief to first responders in the north and south fighting the Dixie and Caldor fires, respectively.

“Next week, humidity will return to the teens during the day time,“ Mueller said.

Although the Grass Valley canyon area is more humid than it has been, the arid California landscape needs even more moisture.

“There was higher humidity and rain in the Grass Valley canyon area, but not enough,” Mueller said. “It helped — but, yeah — we need more.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com