Lowell Fire in Nevada County closer to containment, reduction in firefighters | TheUnion.com

Lowell Fire in Nevada County closer to containment, reduction in firefighters

A Cal Fire firefighter at work on the Lowell Fire in Nevada County earlier this week. More than 2,000 firefighting personnel were at one time battling the blaze, which is now predicted to be fully contained by Aug. 3.
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

(Editor’s note: Story has been updated to reflect latest acreage/containment information).

After battling the Lowell Fire for more than five days, fire personnel have quashed a majority of the blaze.

As of 8:45 a.m. Friday, the fire, a more than 2,300-acre blaze in the Steep Hollow drainage west of Alta, was reported to be 75 percent contained.

Cal Fire estimates the fire to be fully contained by Aug. 3, despite withdrawing fire personnel from as many as 2,400 firefighters, to Thursday’s count of 1,952.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Cal Fire Cpt. Mike Mohler said. “We’re still into heavy timber so there’s still a lot of mop-up to be done. You don’t need as many personnel when you’re in the mop-up stage. You need some hand crews and engine companies; we don’t need all those resources like it was a running-gunning fire like it was.”

The area’s dry and warm trend peaked Thursday, and temperatures are expected to decrease slightly this weekend with an increase in humidity.

Access to the fire is still challenging, though hundreds of firefighters are actively battling the fire from the air and ground.

Fire crews also continue to engage in mop-up operations, while smoke is expected to impact the fire area and surrounding communities.

No updates have been released on the two firefighters who were injured while battling the blaze Tuesday afternoon, though Mohler said they were both treated for minor arm injuries and released from care.

There have been six firefighters injured in the fire, though only one remains hospitalized, at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, with burns to the hands and face.

Cal Fire units and other assisting agencies continue to set up a local command post at the Nevada County Fairgrounds that is housing large equipment required to fight fires locally and throughout California. Currently, Cal Fire units are battling more than 15 fires statewide.

“A lot of the equipment and personnel that are here are being reassigned to other incidents,” said Mohler. “The firefighters are in good spirits, but it’s definitely that time of the year, and it’s busy. They’re all looking out for each other and everybody is being positive.”

Local road closures include Red Dog Road at both Chalk Bluff and Buckeye Ridge roads. Banner Quaker Hill Road at Lower Greenhorn and Chalk Bluff roads, and Lowell Hill Road at Mule Spring Road have also been issued a road closure, according to the Cal Fire website.

Cal Fire held a public meeting Wednesday night at the Rood Center’s Nevada County Board of Supervisor’s Chambers, where fire officials gave updates on the Lowell Fire, and answered questions from the public.

“Operations were explained to the community,” Mohler said. “And also what’s going on through the fire. The public was very happy, we explained to them that the hardest thing for us is to have anybody evacuated from their home. We explained that one, our priority is life, and two, it’s property. So we want to get people that were evacuated back to their homes as soon as possible.”

There are currently around 54 structures threatened by the fire in Placer and Nevada counties, down from 1,550.

All mandatory evacuations have been lifted, though warnings have been issued for the Steep Hollow Creek and Buckeye Ridge communities. Further evacuation warnings have been given for Chalk Bluff Road to Banner Quaker Road; all other evacuation warnings have been lifted.

The Tahoe National Forest is maintaining a forest closure with specified exemptions for the fire area, and the evacuation center at First Baptist Church in Grass Valley remains closed.

“We’ve increased our containment line around where those other structures were,” Mohler said. “So we don’t see as much active fire as we did previously.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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