Fire Crews Battle Raging Wildfire Under California Power Lines

SACRAMENTO, California, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - Firefighters raced winds this weekend to extinguish a fire in northern California that threatened three transmission lines carrying electricity from the Pacific Northwest into California. Fire managers expect full containment Tuesday evening.

Sparked by lightning, the Lakin Fire, 26 miles northeast of McCloud, California is burning near three transmission lines located about 1.5 miles apart. The blaze is about half a mile east of the California Oregon Transmission Project powerline and three-quarters of a mile south of the Western Area Power Administration and PG&E powerlines.

Some 420 firefighters dug and held containment lines Saturday and encircled the 507 acre fire on Sunday with winds gusting to 18 miles per hour.

“We are closely watching two transmission lines, which are high power regional electrical lines,” said Shasta-Trinity National Forest Spokesman Mike Odle. “We are working in cooperation with the power line managers who are fully aware of the current fire situation.”

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The Lakin Fire is still burning close to high voltage transmission lines carrying electricity to California from the Pacific Northwest. (Photo courtesy USFS)
“Our number one priority is public and firefighter safety - safety is paramount,” said Odle. “We will not place crews and engines in fire areas unless we can provide for their utmost safety.”

Safety is a top priority for the Western Area Power Administration, said spokeswoman Laverne Kyriss.

“Our first priority is protecting people; we want to protect the firefighters on the line,” said Kyriss. “When firefighters are out there it can be dangerous working under an energized line – we will take steps to reroute energy from the lines should the fire come closer.”

"Although every effort is being made to avoid power interruptions, firefighter and public safety continue to take precedence," Odle said.

“Airtanker support and helicopter support will once again be key in slowing the fire’s progress,” said Odle.

The Lakin fire is one of 32 fires caused by lightning on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in the past week. Twenty-eight are in remote, isolated areas of the forest. Due to the efforts of firefighters, 18 of these wildland fires are considered contained, controlled or out, but 10 fires continue to be fuel driven and expanding in size.

The nearby Bar Complex of four lightning fires in the Trinity Alps Wilderness north and northwest of Weaverville, California has grown to 1,078 acres. Forest Service officials have closed area roads and trails.

Meanwhile, the Weaverville hospital has been evacuated, and mandatory evacuations have been ordered for parts of the town as an even larger fire advances. The Junction fire burning six miles west of Weaverville, has consumed 4,000 acres and is burning out of control towards the town, despite the efforts of more than 1,100 fire personnel.

At least 2,000 residences, 200 commercial and 500 outbuildings are threatened, and state highway 299W is closed.

Old growth forest and spotted owl habitat is on fire 19 miles southeast of Covelo. Salmon streams are also jeopardized by the 2,700 acre Hunter fire in the Black Butte River watershed on the Mendocino National Forest.

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Mendocino fire crew douses a hot spot on the Hunter Fire. (Photo courtesy Rick Hartigan)
Like hundreds of others across the country, the Hunter fire was touched off by lightning and is now just five percent contained.

Suppression of the Hunter fire is a multi-agency effort. Crews came from across the country, including the states of Kentucky, Alaska and Hawaii. Personnel and equipment from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Army National Guard, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and numerous private contractors are involved.

Officials say there is a chance that dry thunderstorms Monday will bring more lightning.

“Limited numbers of fire suppression resources is hampering staffing of incidents,” said Odle. “Firefighting resources continue to be stretched thin as fires burn in Northern California and much of the western United States.”

In Washington state, Governor Chris Gregoire declared a wildfire emergency in Chelan County, where the Flick Creek fire on the east shore of Lake Chelan has burned about 4,600 acres. The fire is burning on the Wenatchee National Forest and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

Residents of the small community of Stehekin at the north end of Lake Chelan are waiting for orders to evacuate. Surrounded by wilderness area, the North Cascades National Park and Forest Service land, Stehekin is accessible only by boat, float plane or on foot.

“We hope to have the skills of eight to nine smokejumpers from the North Cascade Smokejumper Base,” said Incident Commander Wally Bennett Sunday. “This is a partial response to our critical resource need requested of Type 1 crews that has yet to be filled due to the many high priority wildland fires around the country.”

In addition to the jumpers, three helicopters will be available to support the firefighting efforts. Both the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service will have crews on the ground to assist with lakeshore structure protection efforts.

Also on the Wenatchee National Forest a much larger fire has burned more than 24,800 acres six miles north of Winthrop, Washington.

Fueled by dead trees, mostly lodgepole pine and insect killed spruce, the fire has forced officials to close the national forest east of the Chewuch River to the forest boundary and from State Route 20 to the Pasayten Wilderness.

Residents of the town of Conconully are encouraged to make preparations in the event they have to leave the area, but no one has yet been asked to leave.

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The flames advance at night in a Nevada fire sparked by lightning that burned more than 1,700 acres before it was contained July 23. (Photo courtesy Bill Paxton)
In Nevada, high winds have fanned the flames of dozens of lightning fires that have charred about 337 square miles of rangeland across the state.

Six wildland firefighters from a California hotshot crew were injured late Tuesday afternoon during a wildland fire burnover in Nevada. Based at the Eldorado National Forest near Placerville, the crew was assigned to the New York Peak Fire 65 miles northwest of Winnemucca, Nevada, when the burnover occurred.

Three of the injured firefighters were flown by helicopter from the incident to the Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca. Two of these firefighters were later flown by fixed wing aircraft to the Lion’s Burn Care Center at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The others were treated at Humboldt General and released.

Ninety percent contained by Thursday, the New York Peak Fire burned more than 6,000 acres at the south end of the Pine Forest Range in rough terrain covered in juniper, mountain mahogany, sagebrush. The fire was located in a wilderness study area with limited vehicle access.

A federal interagency serious accident investigation team is conducting a review of the incident.

BLM Nevada State Fire Management Officer Rex McKnight said, "Whenever injuries such as these occur during firefighting operations, a top priority is to learn everything we can about them so that we can work to prevent similar incidents from happening again."