Beckwourth Complex flares up, more evacuations ordered

Northwest of Beckwourth, California

Updated at 7:11 p.m. PDT July 7, 2021

Map of the Beckwourth Complex
Map of the Beckwourth Complex. The white line was the perimeter the morning of July 6, 2021. The yellow line was the perimeter at 11:50 p.m. July 6. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:54 p.m. PDT July 7.

The Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex of fires, was very active Wednesday, spreading about 3.5 miles to the northeast in a 15 hour period.

Wednesday afternoon the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of Frenchman Lake Cove.

The Dotta Fire remained quiet.

On Wednesday the relative humidity dropped to 10 percent while the southwest wind gusted at 15 to 20 mph.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Dotta and Sugar Fires and the Beckwourth Complex of fires, including the most recent, click HERE.)

The weather forecast for Wednesday night calls for calmer winds but the RH will max out at only 34 percent. For Thursday the prediction is for 10 to 15 mph winds out of the southwest gusting at 23 to 25 mph, 10 percent RH, and a high temperature of 88 degrees. This weather, again, could lead to rapid fire spread toward the northeast. The wind will not be as strong on Friday.

Sugar Fire
Sugar Fire, as seen from Beckworth Mtn. looking northeast at 6:01 PDT July 7, 2021.

Updated at 8:45 a.m. PDT July 7, 2021

Beckwourth Complex fire California map
Map of the Beckwourth Complex. The white line was the perimeter the morning of July 6, 2021. The yellow line was at 11:50 p.m. July 6.

A mapping flight Tuesday night at 11:50 determined that the Sugar Fire, one of two fires in the Beckwourth Complex six miles east of Portola, California, spread northeast for an additional 2,214 acres during the afternoon. During satellite overflights Wednesday morning at 3:30 and 7:46 it was still active, producing smoke that was blowing to the north but by dawn was drifting northeast.

The Sugar fire has burned 2,512 acres. The 553-acreDotta Fire has been quiet for several days.

The strong wind that spread the fire Tuesday afternoon gusting out of the west-northwest at 17 to 19 mph, decreased by 8 p.m and by 11 p.m. was only 1 to 4 mph while the relative humidity rose into the 50s overnight.

The Plumas National Forest posted the following at 8:30 Wednesday morning:

…Air tankers, flying out of McClellan Air Tanker Base dropped multiple loads of retardant [Tuesday] to slow the fire’s spread, along with helicopters dropping water, giving firefighters on the ground an opportunity to safely attack the spreading fire. Firefighters that worked yesterday’s day shift staffed the Sugar fire last night. Those resources included hand crews, dozers, engines and water tenders. A structure protection group comprised of local fire departments and CAL FIRE engines provided structure protection to residences around the Maddalena area all evening. No structures have been damaged or impacted.

Additional resources of firefighters, helicopters, engine strike teams, and dozers have been ordered and will be arriving throughout the day to respond aggressively, hoping to take advantage of predicted minimal wind and utilization of aircraft to support ground resources. Expect to see a steady stream of air tankers and helicopters flying retardant and water [Wednesday].

The weather forecast for the fire area Wednesday calls for winds increasing during the morning, peaking from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. at 13 mph out of the southwest gusting to 21, then decreasing to 6 mph by sunset. The relative humidity will drop to 13 percent in the afternoon. Thursday will bring stronger winds out of the southwest at 15 mph gusting to 25 with 11 percent relative humidity. It will be a challenge for firefighters to hang on to the fire during the predicted weather.

9:54 p.m. PDT July 6, 2021

Beckwourth Complex
Beckwourth Complex of Fires as seen from Beckwourth Peak, looking northeast at 7:44 p.m. PDT July 6, 2021.

After showing no growth over the last three days, smoke from the Beckwourth Complex of fires roared back into the air Tuesday afternoon, about the same time a notice lifting all remaining evacuations was posted on InciWeb. New evacuation notices for Beckwourth Genesee Road to Harrison Ranch Road appeared on InciWeb and the Facebook page of the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

The sudden flare up can primarily be attributed to a sudden and significant increase in wind speeds from 2 to 4 mph at 1 p.m., to 10 to 15 mph gusting out of the west-northwest at 17 to 19 mph the rest of the afternoon at a weather station south of Beckwourth. The temperature was 90 with a relative humidity in the high teens.

The “Complex” of fires is comprised of two lightning-caused blazes, the Dotta and Sugar Fires northeast of Beckwourth.

Map of the Beckwourth Complex
Map of the Beckwourth Complex at 12:24 p.m. PDT July 6, 2021.

The Dotta Fire was detected Wednesday June 30 and as of July 3 had burned 533 acres. The Sugar Fire started July 2 and was 250 acres on July 3.

Beckwourth Complex of fires Satellite photo
Satellite photo at 7:01 p.m. PDT July 6, 2021, showing the Beckwourth Complex of Fires and other fires in Oregon.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.