Tamarack Fire prompts more evacuations

The fire has burned about 23,000 acres near Woodfords and Markleeville in Northern California

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Updated 10:38 a.m. PDT July 19, 2021

Tamarack Fire map
Tamarack Fire map. The white line was the estimated perimeter Sunday afternoon, July 18. The yellow line was the perimeter at 6:30 p.m. PDT July 17. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:06 a.m. PDT July 19, 2012.

The Incident Management Team said Monday morning the approximate size of the Tamarack Fire near Markleeville, California is 23,078 acres.

The weather over the fire was not extreme Sunday and Sunday night, but the fire remained active into the night in spite of the relative humidity rising into the 40s after 5 p.m. Clouds in the afternoon and during the night prevented a mapping flight after sunset. The aircraft uses infrared technology that can “see” through smoke, but not clouds.

The perimeters on the eastern side of the fire on these maps is an estimate.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Tamarack Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

During a satellite overflight Monday at 3:06 a.m. a hole in the clouds permitted it to sense a great deal of heat on the northeast section of the fire in a surprising location, but some other areas on the fire may have been blocked by clouds. This satellite data should be considered unverified until it can be ground truthed or confirmed with a mapping flight. The wind direction overnight was quite variable, perhaps affected by passing thunderstorms, and could be the explanation for spread directions not previously seen.

It appears, from the incomplete information about the fire’s perimeter, that a portion of the northeast side of the Tamarack Fire has bumped into the East Fork Fire which burned just a couple of weeks ago. (see the map above)

The Incident Meteorologist assigned to the fire reported rain reaching the ground late in the afternoon Sunday, and the Hawkins Peak camera showed raindrops on the lens. We checked several weather stations around the fire and could not find any that recorded precipitation. A very small amount of rain in isolated locations will not have any significant long term effect.

Tamarack Fire map
Tamarack Fire map. Estimated perimeter at 3 p.m. PDT July 18, 2021.

The map above shows completed fire line around much of Markleeville — the black line in the center of the fire. It was constructed by dozers and hand crews who later burned out from the lines, robbing the fire of fuel as it approached. It is likely that these efforts by firefighters prevented some structures from being consumed.

In spite of their efforts, the National Situation Report indicates that 10 structures have been destroyed. A damage assessment team has been ordered and will determine exactly how many structures have been destroyed or damaged.

Firefighters are working to limit fire spread north towards Highway 88 and Carson Canyon. Monday, as resources become available, they will begin line construction at Highway 89 moving to the southwest.

Residents can sign up for evacuation notifications by clicking on a link at https://alpinecountyca.gov/204/Sheriff. However, we checked it again at 8:25 a.m. Monday and the site was still down.

The Incident Management Team reported Monday morning the following areas “are under evacuation:” Markleeville, Grover Hot Springs and campground area, Shay Creek, Marklee Village, Alpine Village, Woodfords, East Fork Resort, and the community of Hung A Lel Ti.

There is a 60 percent chance of wetting rain Monday in the fire area, with a possibility of flooding in drainages, and debris flows on steep terrain.

Resources assigned to the fire Sunday evening included 18 hand crews, 62 engines, and 6 helicopters for a total of 796 personnel.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team, Rocky Mountain Team 1 (Incident Commander – Dallas), will be in-briefed Monday and will assume command from Great Basin Team 3 (IC-Bollier) Tuesday.

9:26 a.m. PDT July, 18, 2021

map Tamarack Fire
Map of the Tamarack Fire. The yellow line was the approximate perimeter at 3:42 a.m. PDT July 17, 2021. The white line was the perimeter at 6:30 p.m. PDT July 17. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:24 a.m. PDT July 18.

The Tamarack Fire in Northern California crossed Highway 89 Saturday, burning past Markleeville prompting additional evacuations of Woodfords and Alpine Village. The fire crossed the East Fork of the Carson River near the East Fork Resort and moved into lighter fuels which aided in the growth to the north and northeast during the afternoon hours, spreading approximately three to five miles in 24 hours.

Saturday at 5 p.m. the Incident Management Team reported that the fire had burned an estimated 21,000 acres, and that mandatory evacuations were in place for the following areas: Grover Hot Springs, Shay Creek, Marklee Village, Markleeville, Carson River Resort, Poor Boy Road area, Wolf Creek Campground, Silver Creek Campground, Sierra Pines, Upper and Lower Manzanita, Crystal Springs, Alpine Village, Diamond Valley Road and Hung-a-lel-ti.

Residents can sign up for evacuation notifications by clicking on a link at https://alpinecountyca.gov/204/Sheriff. However, we checked it at 8:50 a.m. Sunday and the site was down.

The number of reported structures destroyed remains at two. The fire continues to impact Markleeville and the surrounding areas. Firefighters are actively suppressing the fire where they can safely do so utilizing a variety of tactics and natural barriers.

In the photo below taken at 9:15 a.m. Sunday, the Tamarack Fire appears to already be creating pyrocumulus clouds. This is not common a few hours after sunrise.

Tamarack Fire
Tamarack Fire, looking east from the SierraTahoe camera at 9:15 a.m. PDT July 18, 2021.

The fire started from lightning on July 4. It was monitored for 13 days remaining at about a quarter of an acre, but not suppressed. It grew very large on July 16. Since then, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has attempted to suppress it, reporting zero containment on July 17.

The fire is in an area of California suffering from extreme drought and is being driven by very low fuel moistures, low humidity, and strong winds. It is burning in an area which, for the most part, has not been visited by fire for more than 30 years.

Fire history, Tamarack Fire area
Fire history, Tamarack Fire area.

The temperature Saturday reached 85 degrees while the relative humidity was in the high teens. The wind in the morning at a weather station near Woodfords was fairly benign. But from 3 p.m. Saturday until 3 a.m. Sunday it increased, coming from the south-southwest at 3 to 13 mph with gusts of 10 to 25 mph. From 4 a.m. until 7 a.m. Sunday it was calm.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the area until Monday morning. But compared to Saturday, there will be less wind, slightly higher relative humidity, and some shading from clouds. The forecast for Sunday calls for 3 to 6 mph winds out of the southeast until 2 p.m., which will put additional pressure on Woodfords and the nearby Highway 88 corridor. After 2 p.m. the wind will be generally from the southwest all the way through Friday, unless affected by passing thunderstorms. Wind speeds of 6 to 10 mph are expected Sunday afternoon with a high of 85 degrees and 20 percent relative humidity. On Sunday and Monday it will be mostly cloudy in the afternoons with a chance of thundershowers.

Tamarack Fire
Tamarack Fire as seen from Turtle Rock July 17, 2021. InciWeb photo.

Video credit: Craig Philpott via Storyful

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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.

19 thoughts on “Tamarack Fire prompts more evacuations”

  1. I realize hindsight is 20/20, but would the decision to monitor the fire for 2 weeks rather than suppress be considered a mistake?

  2. just a thought but what would two or 3 bucket drops have cost compared to what they have now?

  3. Another question. What was to be accomplished with the “not an unresponsive approach” approach USFS took in the first 13 days? Creating a burn mosaic in the Mokelumne? Or maybe, how about not expending critical funds from a faltering budget for a crew and logistics? A lot more is being spent now! LR

  4. From town of Walker north to South Carson City on Hwy 395 including Monitor Pass, Markleeville areas, all seem to sit in a dry lightning band area which propel fires every year. High speed winds, dry vegetation, & dry lightning set the stage each year for these catastrophies Let’s hope this fire does not head into heavily populated areas & no more fires start with thunder clouds coming in tomorrow.

  5. California’s trees are burning every day. When the trees burn you can hear them scream. Not to mention the animals that climb a tree for safety then find themselves trapped and burn to death. It seems like no one cares anymore. SOS. Please God help us. Every tree needs to be saved. Monitoring a fire instead of acting as fast as possible is part of the problem.

  6. My question exactly! I don’t understand “monitoring” small fires when the days are clear enough (for 13 of those days) to get a plane or chopper up there to drop a load or two to stop it before it gets out of control. There has not been any wind – as was the case with the Camp Fire – that would prevent a drop at some point in those 13 days. With the entire west coast being a hot bed waiting to go up, it seems like ANY fire that is burning should be attacked by air before they “explode in size” (as is always the case). Seriously. Do the “monitored” fires ever go out on their own during the summer with no hope of rain in the future? My guess is “no.”
    I’m not knocking the efforts of the wildland fighters … they are highly overworked and drastically underpaid … and I thank every one of them for their hard work. Just seems that we put more lives in danger “monitoring” instead of dropping a load on a tiny fire.

  7. The Tamarack Fire just blew over Hwy 89 with extreme energy being released. From what I’m hearing the battle has been loss and that Mother Nature and terrain features will be the winner, again. As implied; are there other reasons this (Tamarack) and other past fires were allowed to escape? There has been no aviation activity (too late anyway) reported on Flight Tracker 24. Anyway good luck to all those in Alpine County, Ca.

  8. In Redding on Juky 4th, the local radio thought it way more important to advertise the firework show coming that evening than that salt fire. Next day it went from 2k to 9k, and the temp was 104 degrees fyi. It’s pretty criminal that we pay taxes for this kind of sheer neglect! Kudos to the fighters on the ground, but the decision makers are looking like politicians at this point…

  9. Easy to armchair.

    But putting everything out has contributed to this in the first place. Natural starts, natural fire. The interface is not natural, which is the age old argument. I don’t know all the variables in the decisions, and I doubt most of you do either. I am however glad to see those that recognize that the GS3 is not the decision maker, so don’t hate on those just trying to do the work they are asked to do.

  10. It’s called nature, bro. And nature is metal.

    But yeah, someone should lose their job. The USFS is a train wreck with no accountability.

  11. Easy to pick apart, we never hear of the 100s or 1000’s of fires that are left to burn and go out at .25 acres. How many lives and injuries have we prevented by not staffing every fire in nasty terrain?

    This is a bad situation, but we forget that only the bad decisions get reported on.

  12. I had already posted at an earlier Tamarack article and I see the same sentiment from some of the other posts, so now is the time to bring it up.
    “The fervent cries of the mob to punish those for poor outcomes will only result in no one wanting to make any decisions if they are to be held liable and their lives destroyed. Who will be the managers then? Fire suppression is not like putting out your backyard BBQ. It is ever changing and fluid and those in charge are making the best decisions possible. I say this with 34 years of fire suppression experience.”

  13. “Those in charge are making the best decisions possible.” That’s a joke, right? After 34 years, do you really believe that? Kool-aid and BD swinging contests.

    Have you ever thought that the lack of accountability enables the GS-Fantastics to make even poorer decisions? Knocking on the door of retirement doesn’t impact decisions, either.

    “Mess up, get promoted”- the mantra of the USFS and countless overhead that skirted sound decision-making only to go up a pay grade.

  14. I/We should avoid the arm chair QB thing, it’s difficult to do so when some of us have experienced in one way or another something like this.
    Maybe there needs to be set criteria for monitoring a fire, something a bit more than it’s in the wilderness and there fore we are going to monitor.
    I have no idea what decision matrix was used by managers to make their decision, FF safety sure, I get that one, however that should always be a consideration, we insert folks all the time into some very rough areas, we just do.
    It was stated that the fire had a low probability of moving beyond it’s natural containment, if that’s the case then have a plan to keep it there, a few bucket drops here and there during the heat of the day.
    We are in PL-5 and maybe we should take a hard look at our monitor incidents when we get to Pl-4, there are very few areas in the country that I would feel comfortable letting a fire be managed for resource benefits, climate change, prolonged drought, lack of resources, etc
    Back in the day if a fire moved a mile or 2 in a burning period that was impressive, now fire move 5+ miles routinely, times have changed and we need to charge our management practices as well….

    And I for one do not suggest that folks need to be fired, it’s a decision that was made with the tools that they have in the tool box, maybe we just need to retool a bit….


  15. “Koolaid?” “BD contest?” “A joke?” Wow, what a pep talk for the thousands of men and women trying to put out the fires “Covid.” So far, there have been seven firefighters injured with no firefighters killed fighting hundreds of fires across the West from Canada to New Mexico! I say that is pretty good. Stay Safe Firefighters.

  16. Perhaps we apply this quote to fighting hundreds of wildfires as well… “No battle plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy.” H. von Moltke & C. Powell.

    Or, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” D. Eisenhower.

  17. Fire is beneficial when the structure of the forests is good. Mature trees should dominate the forests but that hasn’t been the case for years. Big trees got logged out then fire suppressed for decades so now fires are destructive, often crown fires. Let sierra trees get 200, 300, 400,years old then fire is not a disaster

  18. This is definitely upper management who should be fired, if not face criminal charges. If this was a police incident the public would be demanding arrests and investigations. Management took the job, with it comes the responsibility not just CRT training and enviromental training. You enjoyed the bennies, so now take the heat. How about a little logging which would create fire breaks and provide money for the forest service. I know some people are against it, what to you have now, all the trees are gone. Once again the crews and their immediate supervisors know what to do, just ask them. They are motivated.

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