Local fires almost contained
Senior Staff Writer
The Yuba River Complex of wildfires is almost 60 percent contained after firefighters made significant headway on the high Sierra blazes over the weekend.
“The thunderstorms and dry lightning that were predicted for last night missed our area, which was a big plus, so the crews were able to make pretty good progress,” said fire information officer Terry McMahan late Sunday afternoon.
“No structures have been lost and we’ve had some minor injuries, but no work-lost injuries,” McMahan said.
There is no estimate of full containment, according to Brenda Brown, another information officer on the complex.
A health alert remains in effect because of fire smoke through tonight and residents should avoid outdoor activities, according to the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District in Grass Valley.
The National Weather Service in Sacramento predicted thunderstorms and dry lightning for the higher elevations of the Sierra again tonight, with a slight chance of them again Thursday. Those strikes could produce more fires like those currently burning all over Northern California.
Smoky conditions are also expected to last through Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The air district advised residents last week that if they can see or smell smoke, that means the air quality is dangerous and people should stay indoors, particularly the elderly, children and those with breathing maladies.
Ozone readings were in the unhealthy and the unhealthy for sensitive individuals range from 2 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Sunday, with the exception of five hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The high ozone and particulate matter from the fires have caused the area’s worst recorded air quality in the 15 years the air district has been keeping records, according to employee Joe Fish.
According to the Tahoe National Forest, the 1,500-acre Fall Fire near Bowman Lake is 60 percent contained, the 1,150-acre Scotchman Fire near the town of Washington is 53 percent contained and the 371-acre Celina Fire near Graniteville is 75 percent contained.
The news was not as good on the American River Complex of fires in Placer County, which were only 10 percent contained.
There was no containment on the 2,200-acre Government Fire and only 10 percent on the Westville Fire, both of which are just east of Blue Canyon.
Smoky conditions were also being caused by the Canyon Complex of fires in Plumas County, which was at 9,200 acres with only 5 percent containment.
Meanwhile, around the state, firefighters on Sunday had battled more than a thousand wildfires burning throughout Northern California to a stalemate, but forecasters said dangerous fire conditions would not relent anytime soon.
A U.S. Forest Service report said the weather would get even drier and hotter as fire season headed toward its traditional peak in late July and August.
Lower-than-average rainfall and record levels of vegetation parched by a spring drought likely mean a long, fiery summer throughout Northern California, according to the Forest Service’s state fire outlook released last week.
Already the fires now burning will take weeks to months to fully bring under control, the report said.
Those blazes were mostly sparked by lightning storms that were unusually intense for so early in the season. But summer storms would likely grow even more fierce, according to the Forest Service.
“Our most widespread and/or critical lightning events often occur in late July or August, and we have no reason to deviate from that,” the agency’s report said.
The blazes have scorched more than 556 square miles and destroyed more than 50 buildings, said state emergency services spokesman Gregory Renick.
Air quality districts from Bakersfield to Redding issued health advisories through the weekend, urging residents to stay indoors to limit their exposure to the smoky air. Air pollution readings in Northern California are two to 10 times the federal standard for clean air, state air regulators said.
On Saturday, President Bush issued an emergency declaration for California and ordered federal agencies to assist in firefighting efforts in Butte, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, and Trinity.
But California emergency officials said that state and local governments would also need federal financing to cover the costs of fighting so many fires this early in the year.
Federal aid now includes four Marine Corps helicopters, remote sensing of the fires by NASA, federal firefighters, and the activation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
More than 18,000 firefighters, nearly 1,700 fire engines and bulldozers, and more than 80 helicopters and aircraft were fighting more than 1,000 active fires Sunday, Renick said.
The blazes threatened more than 10,000 buildings across the region, he said.
In hard-hit Butte County, 31 fires have burned 25 square miles and threatened 1,200 homes. Though the blazes had spread since Saturday, firefighters increased containment to 20 percent.
More than 120 fires had scorched nearly 56 square miles in Mendocino County, and 900 homes were still under threat Sunday.
Overall containment on the fires had grown to 20 percent Sunday, up from just 5 percent the day before. In Shasta-Trinity counties, fires that had burned nearly 69 square miles and threatened 230 homes were just 10 percent contained.
A wildfire in the Big Sur region of the Los Padres National Forest charred more than 50 square miles and destroyed 16 homes as authorities advised more evacuations.
The blaze was still just 3 percent contained more than a week after breaking out in the popular outdoor destination’s steep mountain forests.
The fire has forced the closure of a scenic stretch of coastal Highway 1 and driven away visitors at the peak of the tourist season.
Further south in the Los Padres forest, firefighters reported good progress on a separate wildfire that started three weeks ago.
The blaze has scorched 95 square miles of remote wilderness, but officials predicted it would be fully contained by Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
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