Blaze fighting resources stretched |

Blaze fighting resources stretched

Wildfires raging in California – 1,026 as of Wednesday – have stirred competition for resources to battle the blazes choking Nevada County, and a local fire official said an air inversion layer will have to lift before smoky conditions improve.

“We’re competing for resources,” said Carlton Joseph, incident commander for the Yuba River Complex of fires in Nevada and Sierra counties. On Wednesday, only 295 firefighters had been assigned to the complex because fire crews “are at a premium.”

“We’ve had some crews that have worked three shifts straight. They’re working very hard in very tough terrain,” said Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman Ann Westling.

Joseph hoped for additional crews by this morning, but it was unclear whether they would arrive. The American River Complex near Auburn was sixth on the priority list for Northern California and the Yuba River Complex seventh, Joseph said, because other fires in the state are threatening more homes, power lines and infrastructure than those here.

“You staff what you can on (fires) that represent the greatest threat,” Joseph said.

Despite the lack of resources, the Yuba River Complex fires overall were about 15 percent contained by late Wednesday, up from 10 percent the day before, according to Tahoe Forest figures. But the Celina and Scotchman fires had grown significantly.

Meanwhile, outdoor physical activity should be avoided today in Nevada County as an air quality alert continues, with smoke from area fires and high ozone levels causing the worst air readings here in 15 years.

The smoky conditions are making it hard for firefighters to see where and when to attack numerous blazes in the region, Joseph said.

“Until the air clears, we won’t be able to fly” to see what’s going on or to bomb the fires with retardant and water, he said.

“We can’t map the fires because of the smoke, but we’re scheduled for an infrared flight tonight, which will give us a handle on where the fires are and what they’re doing,” Joseph added.

Three firefighters injured

The Yuba River Complex grew slightly to 2,095 acres and is 10 percent contained, said Larry Schmidt at the fire command center. Three firefighters have suffered minor injuries, but no structures have been lost.

Progress was made on the 900-acre Scotchman Fire Wednesday as a new fire line was established on the western flank, blocking it from entering the town of Washington, Schmidt said.

Firefighters went in Tuesday night to take advantage of better conditions; Joseph said he was confident the line would hold.

Washington Road remains closed for anyone other than residents, property owners and those with campground reservations. Bowman Lake Road is closed for anyone other than residents with identification because of the 1,300-acre Fall Fire.

The American River Complex near Auburn continues to burn on about 1,250 acres and another 4,500 acres are burning in Plumas County.

The National Weather Service in Sacramento said there is a slight chance of thunderstorms and more lightning strikes Saturday and Saturday night like the ones that caused last weekend’s rash of blazes to break out across the state.

The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District continued the alert they issued Tuesday through today, after a pall of smoke continued to hang over the county.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail

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