Wye and Walker fires in northern California burning hot

Two fires burning east of Clearlake Oaks, California, are threatening homes and ranches and forcing evacuations. The Wye Fire, near the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 53, was at 3,000 acres and about 25 percent containment. The Walker Fire, near Walker Ridge Road, is 30 percent contained at 2,000 acres after causing evacuations of 480 residents in the Spring Valley area. A Cal Fire spokesman told the Lake County News that both fires were very active this morning.

Wilbur Hot Springs and other areas in Lake County are popular summer destinations about two hours north of San Francisco.

NBC News reported that the smoke could be seen from Napa County from the south and Butte County from the north. The L.A. Times, which has several photos, reported that the fire was burning on both sides of Highway 20 and moving toward Spring Valley.

Crews were challenged by triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds, and low humidity; an incident command post has been set up at the Lake County Fairgrounds. California Highway Patrol closed Highway 20 east of Clearlake Oaks for a firing operation, but it should be re-opened this afternoon. Cal Fire said there were 324 personnel on the fire, along with 44 engines, eight crews, seven bulldozers, two airtankers, and four helicopters.


Fire near San Diego

A fire near Warner Springs in San Diego County has grown to over 900 acres.

KXO Radio reported that the Chihuahua Fire was estimated at 5 percent containment this morning, with mandatory evacuations in effect for residents of the Chihuahua Valley Road area. Resources assigned include 15 engines and 12 crews, along with three airtankers and six helicopters.

AP reports said the fire was ignited by lightning on Thursday, when thunderstorms rolled through the region with heavy rain and hail.

California fire fee launched

A controversial fire fee imposed by the state will be assessed on more than 15,000 homes in Marin County’s unincorporated areas — even though property owners there already pay for fire protection services.

The new fire fee for rural areas has caused protests in Marin and other California communities. KDRV.com reported that Cal Fire budget reductions in the last year and a half amounted to almost $80 million, and the new protection fee will help offset that loss. Revenue from the new fee is estimated at $84 million per year.

About 845,000 California property owners will receive notice of the fee; buildings are subject to the fee depending on location. The program covers only unincorporated areas of the state — about 31 million acres where fire protection is a state responsibility. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, says this is a “highly flawed fee” that legislators had to agree to as part of a budget deal. Huffman said the fee discriminates against rural areas and punishes communities that tax themselves to provide fire protection. He doesn’t think the fee system will survive a legal challenge.

Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant says the growing number of homes in the interface has increased the state’s costs for suppression. “Services like public safety are vital,” he told Southern California Public Radio. “This new fee will create a stable funding source for public safety and in these tough times we can’t afford not to put money toward fire prevention.”

But many homeowners see the fee as an illegal tax. “This goes on to basically pay the ongoing infrastructure for Cal Fire,” says Republican Senator George Runner with the Board of Equalization. He says the fee paid by a homeowner may not benefit that particular homeowner and is therefore a tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association called the fee an “illegal tax” and is expected to sue.

Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber said the fee will be assessed on 18,000 parcels in Marin for $1.75 million but won’t provide direct benefits to the county. “We want to make sure our communities are protected here in Marin, and $1.75 million is a lot of money we could use locally for wildland fire prevention.” Tiburon Fire Protection District Chief Richard Pearce said his district opposes the tax. “In Marin in particular, it takes $1.75 million from the county and there is no direct benefit,” he said. “We’re already covering the area.”

According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, Marin officials aren’t alone in objecting to the fee. Others who oppose the program include the California State Association of Counties, California Professional Firefighters, and the California Fire Chiefs Association.

The “State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee” was signed into law last year. It requires homeowners in designated fire-prone areas to pay an annual fee of $150 for each habitable structure on a parcel. A $35 discount applies to properties that are already protected by an organized fire agency.

Salt Creek Fire temporarily closes I-5

A fire burning along Interstate 5 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest has forced the evacuation of 100 homes. According to the Sacramento Bee, the fire north of Redding has burned 500 acres and is about 20 percent contained. Don Ferguson with the U.S. Forest Service said crews made progress overnight, but 20 more homes were added to the evacuation list.

The Salt Creek Fire started yesterday in the interstate median; it’s threatening about 20 commercial buildings and 100 other structures, and I-5 was closed for several hours. Thousands of northbound travelers were stuck in traffic in triple-digit heat on the interstate.

The fire’s burning between the O’Brien and Salt Creek exits; major KV power transmission lines are threatened. Resources on the fire include 46 engines, five dozers, six crews, three helicopters, and four airtankers. A Type 2 team will take over the fire this evening. The Redding Record Searchlight has a collection of photos online.

California timber company to pay $50 million for starting fire

Sierra Pacific, a timber company in California, has agreed to pay nearly $50 million and donate 22,500 acres of land to settle a federal government lawsuit over the Moonlight fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007, including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said the fire was caused by two dozer operators working on a red flag warning day.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post:

Wagner’s office claimed employee negligence led to the growth of the fire. The person who was designated to watch for fires left the work area and drove 30 minutes to get a soda, and when he returned more than an hour later, there was a 100-foot wall of smoke, he said.

In addition, there was no access to fire suppression equipment at the site, Wagner said.

He estimated firefighting costs at $22.5 million.

The settlement includes a cash payment of $47 million from Sierra Pacific, a $7 million payment from private landowners and managers of the property where the fire started, and $1 million from the logging contractor.

Wagner estimated the value of the land at $67.5 million, but Sierra Pacific challenged that number, noting the U.S. Forest Service has not yet selected the land to be donated.


Thanks go out to Dick

USFS firefighters attack motorhome fire

Motorhome Fire, San Bernardino National Forest, Oak Glen,
Motorhome Fire, in Oak Glen, California; San Bernardino National Forest. Photo by James Peterson. (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters from the San Bernardino National Forest successfully kept a recent motorhome fire in Oak Glen, California from spreading into the national forest. Engine 34 was first on scene and was assisted by water tender 234 and engines 34 and 3569.



Thanks go out to Ken