Subscribe to
Happy Camp News
by email:

Search Now:

Elk Fire Complex Town Meeting for Happy Camp

July 31, 2007

Crowds at the Town Meetings have noticeably thinned. There was no one from the Sheriff’s Department advising us on evacuation plans. There was no one from the National Type 1 Team under Mike Dietrich because the teams changed on Monday. Kent Swartzlander, Incident Commander a couple of weeks ago, and his team are back to work on the fire for the next couple of weeks.

All the news was good news. While there were questions, more than one citizen in the meeting made a point to say “thank you” to the firefighters for their work and professionalism and for keeping us informed.

They are still watching, patrolling and mopping up. Elk Creek Road is still closed at Five-mile Bridge.

Phyllis Swanson, who wore a National Park Service patch on her shoulder, was the Public Information Officer who began the meeting. Don Hall, Deputy District Ranger was back from a few days off, which we were glad to hear. Fatigue management is important in keeping our firefighters and all of the planning and support personnel safe. Being overly fatigued from too many 14 to 16 hour days is a good way to have casualties.

Harold Tripp of Karuk Department of Natural Resources says that he was very pleased with both teams that have been here working these fires. He said it used to be that he didn’t like some of the back burns, but when done carefully, keeping low intensity and slowly creeping down hill, he has seen how very effective it can be.

Present manpower is about 900 firefighters and in the next four or five days it will be reduced to half that. At the same time, they will continue to monitor and patrol, and there will be restoration and repair projects going on.

The nice thing about these public Town Meetings is the opportunity to meet new residents to Happy Camp. It was an added joy and good occasion when we face possible disaster together. The main theme of tonight’s meeting was that we are very grateful for the work, skill, and abilities of the firefighting teams who save our town and community!

ONE LAST THING, this story could have had a much more disastrous ending if it had not been for our Fire Safe Council. They have worked for the last few years to put a ring of protection around our community so that a wildfire coming our way could be more easily controlled. If you appreciate their work, please tell them so. Better yet, volunteer to help them as they are very busy people who put in a great many hours to help the community in this way. Duane Armbruster, 493-2740, also put up the sign, by the car wash. George Harper, Carol Sharpe, and George Bernhard are crucial personnel on this volunteer organization that helps keep us safe from fire.

Tragedy in Happy Camp

July 28, 2007

By Judy Bushy

People of Happy Camp and the surrounding area faced several fatalities in the past few days. A Forest Service contracted helicopter making a delivery to fire lines crashed. The victim of the helicopter crash has been identified as Dennis Luster Davis, 61, of Boise ID. Davis was a pilot for Idaho Helicopters and flew a Bell 205, type 2 helicopter, tail number 205BR.

Now, two food service workers who were employed at fire camp have also drowned in the Klamath River. They went swimming at Clear Creek.

Clear Creek is a popular swimming hole, but local families swim upstream in the creek, as you may see depicted on the mural on the side of Parry’s Market on Davis Road. The Karuk people have an ancient legend that a giant black snake who lives in a cave down at Ishi Pishi falls comes and will pull under a swimmer in the Klamath River. Perhaps that account explains the current that can sweep away an unsuspecting swimmer in the stream of the Klamath River. The worst thing a person can do is exhaust himself in fighting the current, Perhaps we take too lightly the danger of water sports.

A second swimmer’s body has now been located – Richard Pearson, Jr. 31; the body of George Barbis, 35, was recovered from the Klamath River earlier. Our sympathy and condolences go out to the families.

Closer to home, a Happy Camp resident, Harriet Merkler, was fatally injured in a roll-over accident on Highway 96 a few miles east of Happy Camp. Her husband, George, 81, was flown to medical care, but survived. Two minors in the car were not seriously injured.

To all the friends and family we wish to express our sympathy and condolences. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this sorrow.


At dawn, July 28, 2007, community members and fellow firefighters gathered at the Happy Camp River Park to remember and honor nine firefighters and camp employees who lost their lives over the past twenty years on the Happy Camp Ranger District. Approximately 1,100 of participants honored the fallen during an early morning sunrise ceremony.. July 28th is significant as it is the fifth anniversary of three Lassen National Forest Firefighters who lost their lives on the Stanza Fire in 2002.

The remembrance included presentations from the Forest Service Honor Guard, including a CALFIRE bag piper, and a Karuk prayer. Comments were presented by Klamath National Forest Supervisor Peg Boland and Happy Camp District Ranger Alan Vandiver, as well as friends and co-workers of those who have passed. Pastor Bill Estes from the Happy Camp Assembly of God offered an invocation, followed by inspirational thoughts from Elk Complex Incident Commander Mike Dietrich. The Honor Guard performed a ceremonial ‘Last Alarm’, five bell rings sounded three times, as has been the tradition for over 100 years. A Forest Service bagpiper concluded the remembrance with a rendition of Amazing Grace.

Fire camp employees George Barbis and Richard Pearson, Jr., under contract to the Forest Service, were lost in an off-duty drowning accident in the Klamath River. George and Richard had also been workers with Teen Challenge.

In August of 2006, Pilots Andrei Pantchenko and Terry ‘Jake’ Jacobs perished following the crash of their helicopter into the Klamath River. During the 2002 Stanza Fire, Firefighters Heather DePaolo, John Self and Steven Oustad died after their fire engine left the roadway and traveled 1,200 feet downhill in a tragic accident. During the 1987 Slater Fire, San Bernardino National Forest Firefighter Bruce Visser was killed after being struck by a motorcycle while performing structure protection duties.

A significant number of firefighters remained on the fireline during the remembrance to ensure that Elk Complex fires did not escape their current containment efforts

Helicopter Accident on Elk Complex Fires, Happy Camp, California

July 24, 2007

YREKA, CA – The victim of yesterday’s helicopter crash has been identifiedas Dennis Luster Davis, 61, of Boise, ID.  Davis was a pilot for Idaho Helicopters, Inc., also of Boise, ID, and flew a Bell 205, type 2 helicopter, tail number 205BR. Davis’ helicopter crashed at 10:15 am as he was providing logistical support to crews fighting the Elk Fire. The Elkfire is one of 30 fires within the Elk Complex; 24 of the 30 fires are 100% contained.

At 12 p.m. yesterday, aviation operations were suspended on the Elk Complex.  Suspending air operations is routine following aviation accidents.  Aviation resources resumed regular operations this morning.

A USDA Forest Service National Accident Investigation Team under the leadership of Jim Sedell arrived today, and has initiated their investigation.

Additional information may be obtained online at or or by calling (530) 841-4451.

Elk Fire Complex Update From The Forest Service

Total Complex Acreage: 9,197 acres
Incident Resources: 1,107 personnel
Total Complex Containment: 28%
Expected Full Containment: 7/29/2007
Cost to Date: $8,897,560
Injuries to Date (minor): 8
Structures Threatened: 550
Fatalities to Date: 1

Yesterday, a pilot under contract was killed when his helicopter crashed near the Elk Fire while providing logistical support to firefighters. Weexpress our deepest condolences, and our thoughts are with h is families. A Forest Service National Accident Investigation Team is arriving today to begin their investigation into the helicopter accident.

The protection of the Happy Camp and Elk Creek communities remains a top priority. Yesterday, crews made excellent progress constructing firelines(see list below). Burnout operations, which reinforce significant portions of the containment line, have been completed on the Little Grider Fire, near Happy Camp, CA. A burnout was initiated last night on the northeast perimeter Wingate Fire and is expected to continue late into Tuesday.

Complex Fire Details

Of the thirty identified fires in the Elk Complex, 24 are 100% contained.

The fires will continue to be monitored, patrolled and staffed as safety, resources and access permit. The remaining six fires are as follows:

· Little Grider Fire (1,952 acres) 60% contained. Burnout operations are complete.

· King Creek II Fire (2975 acres) 25 % contained. Line construction continued on the fire.

· Wingate (916 acres) 5% contained. Burnout operations have begun.

· Elk Fire (1144 acres) 40% contained. Crews established direct line on the fire’s northern and eastern perimeters.

· Titus Fire (2043 acres) 5% contained. A recommended evacuation for homeowners, and closure for campers and miners, from Five Mile Bridge to Norcross Campground on Elk Creek Road remains in place. Firelines have been constructed around structures.

· Hummingbird Fire (80 acres) 0% contained.

Evacuation Planning:

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department has taken steps to locate an evacuation center at Seiad Elementary School in the event evacuation becomes necessary. Individuals with special needs, such as those requiring mobility assistance, need to notify the Sheriff’s Department ahead of time.

Sources of info include: (including other fires) or
the incident information office at (530) 841-4451. Visit for information on fire restrictions and
local closures.

Monday Accident on Elk Fire Complex

July 23, 2007

By Judy Bushy

The news on the Elk Fire Complex had particularly encouraged those involved because of only minor injuries. An amazing feat, since the fires are in steep isolated terrain that in some cases is very treacherous. Fire fighters are working in one of the most dangerous of professions. Today, however, the news has come that this morning shortly after ten oclock, a type 2 helicopter went down in the Norcross Area. Officials have confirmed that there was a fatality.

When the threat of wildfire comes against a community, we cheer and thank the firefighters who come in to save our town, our homes, and perhaps the lives of many in the face of wildfire. Sometimes in the fighting of the fire, some even loose their lives. Our heroes are not invincible. Perhaps that is why they are our heroes, knowing the risks, they gave their all in trying to protect people in a remote community.

Our thoughts and prayers go out for the family and friends of the helicopter crew. If we could, we would give them a collective hug from the whole community. We had hoped that such a sad tragedy would not occur here. It has been a somber day in Happy Camp.

Monday Update on Elk Fire Complex


July 23, 2007

Total Complex Acreage: 9,085 acres               

Incident Resources: 1,145 personnelTotal Complex Containment: 22%                 Expected Full Containment: 7/29/2007Cost to Date: $8,201,274                                           Injuries to Date (minor): 8Structures Threatened: 550 The top priority is the protection of the Happy Camp, Hamburg, and Elk Creek communities. Yesterday, crews made great progress constructing fireline (see list below).  The burnout on the Little Grider Fire began yesterday and initial results were positive. An increase in smoke is expected in the Happy Camp area. Additional fire activity was observed as a result of a warming trend.  

Complex Fire Details

Of the thirty identified fires in the Elk Complex, 24 fires are 100% contained. The fires will continue to be monitored, patrolled and staffed as resources allow. The remaining six fires are as follows:

  • Little Grider Fire (1,952 acres) 50% contained.  The first stage of the Perkins Gulch burnout was conducted and yielded beneficial results.
  • King Creek II Fire (2895 acres) 25 % contained.  Firefighters made significant progress on the fire’s southern and western perimeters.
  • Wingate (916 acres) 5% contained.  Crews established a line from Titus Ridge west to the Klamath River.
  • Elk Fire (1144 acres) 40% contained.  Crews are camped near the fire and continue containment efforts.
  • Titus Fire (2026 acres) 5% contained.  A recommended evacuation for homeowners, and closure for campers and miners, from Five Mile Bridge to Norcross Campground on Elk Creek Road remains in place.  Firelines have been constructed around structures.
  • Hummingbird Fire (80 acres) 0% contained.

 Evacuation Planning:

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has taken steps to locate an evacuation center at Seiad Elementary School in the event evacuation becomes necessary.  Individuals with special needs, such as those requiring mobility assistance, need to notify the Sheriff’s Office ahead of time.

In the event of an evacuation, small animals will be accepted at Seiad Elementary and large animals may be taken to the Karuk Ranch at China Grade Road at the two-mile marker.  All animal owners are asked to be responsible for the feeding and care of their pets at both locations.

Elk Complex Fire Updated at Friday’s Happy Camp Meeting

July 21, 2007

By Judy Bushy

Friday’s Town Hall meeting at the Happy Camp Grange was smaller than previous meetings. While it is encouraging that the residents of Happy Camp feel safer, communication is a vital part of being in the midst of a wildfire crisis. The threat is abated with the rain and cooler temperatures, but with another two months of fire season to go, and several active fires in the vicinity, the crisis isn’t over yet.

Don Hall, Deputy District Ranger, spoke to the questions about what “you guys” are doing. He drove down Curly Jack showing the Klamath National Forest Supervisor what was happening and there were hotshot crews next door to his own home. Teams were going door to door on Curly Jack Road, Division L for evacuation purposes, and informing residents of precautions and preparations. At his home, in the early morning hours, smoke was wafting up from the Wingate, also. So it isn’t “those guys” – it is our neighbors involved. Those from far away usually live in a place where they also experience this same crisis. So the people making the decisions about this fire are not only considering public safety from a professional level but also feel it very personally.

Just a few days ago the wind was 20 to 30 mph, the temperatures were going over 100, we had raging crown fires and lots of smoke. They were planning to build a protected box like area around the town.

Then the rain slowed things down. The crews didn’t sit back and relax. They have put in 30 miles of bulldozer line and 34 miles of hand lines and brush clearing. That’s a lot of hard work but the forest dries out fast at 100-degree heat. On Wednesday afternoon the Wingate fire had showed what it could do when it traveled 2 ½ miles in four hours! We are grateful for only one additional injury and that it was minor.

They are ready to go on more direct attack where possible. In some areas that are “steeper than a cow’s face” Dietrich said that they are too steep and too isolated and couldn’t get a dozer in unless they park it in the river, “which is not cool.” Firefighters are too dear to risk to rock climbing challenges. As Incident commander, Mike Dietrich also mentioned that everyone in the country is working with fires in Idaho, Utah and Nevada as well as elsewhere.

Sheriff’s Dept, Sgt John Evans said Seiad School remains the emergency evacuation site and signs have been posted. Be prepared, and once you do clear evacuation areas, keep the roads clear and don’t block the firefighters work.

Kirk Eadie, Assistant Chief of the Happy Camp Volunteers, also said we need to keep “heads up”. Keep informed. Be ready and be prepared. We appreciate Mike Dietrich and his team keeping us informed so we don’t fall to senseless rumors but can know the truth.

Harold Tripp, with the Karuk Tribe, said it is great working on this team with Don and Alan, Happy Camp District Ranger. His job is to inform firefighting teams about protecting any cultural sensitive areas and he was glad that the fire has not destroyed any sites. The dozer lines are following previous lines as much as possible.

Questions from the gathered Happy Camp citizens involved bringing their horses home, how long the river would be closed to rafting, and how the fire will affect the river view. Many questions have to wait to see what happens in the next four or five days but the team is doing all it can to limit the intensity and severity of damage to as much land as possible and ensure public safety and protect lives of both community and firefighters. Thankfully injuries have been minor considering the harsh terrain where the fires are located. Next meeting is scheduled at the Grange on Tuesday, July 24th at 7 o’clock.

Elk Fire Complex Update From The Forest Service

July 19, 2007

Total Complex Acreage: 8,327 acres

Incident Resources: 1,122 personnel

Total Complex Containment: 15%

Expected Full Containment: 7/29/2007

Cost to Date: $4,300,000

Injuries to Date (minor): 6

Structures Threatened: 550

The top priority is the protection of the Happy Camp, Hamburg, and Elk Creek communities. Yesterday, line construction progress was made on the larger fires of the complex (see list below).

Moisture from the recent rain helped in the firefighting effort. However, the respite was short lived. As conditions dry, the fire is becoming noticeably more active and trees have started torching. Smoke from the fires will become more visible and health issues may again be of concern.

As conditions change, local communities will be updated regularly. The public is invited to attend another informational meeting at the Happy Camp Grange this Friday at 7 p.m.

A new call center with the latest information has been established in the Klamath National Forest Supervisor’s Office at (530) 841- 4451.

Complex Fire Details

Defensive lines around the following fires are being prepared for a burning operation when conditions become favorable:

Little Grider Fire (approx. 1298 acres)

King Creek II Fire (approx. 2779 acres): Firefighters are planning to work directly on the fire’s edge.

Wingate (approx. 909 acres)

Elk Fire (approx. 1166 acres)

Titus Fire (approx. 2026 acres): There is also a recommended evacuation for homeowners, campers, and miners from Five Mile Bridge to Norcross Campground on the Elk Creek Road. Firelines have been constructed around structures.

The following smaller fires have been contained and will continue to be monitored, patrolled and staffed as resources allow:
Tom Marten Fire (approx. 31 acres)
Clear Fire (approx. 38 acres)

Klamath National Forest Announces Emergency Closure of Several River Access Sites

Yreka, CA- Based on concern for the safety of the public and firefighters, the Klamath National Forest has closed seven river access sites. The closures are associated with the Elk Complex, and begin in Happy Camp and continue for several miles downstream. The closures are in place because helicopters, with their buckets suspended below them, are accessing the river for water. The closures will be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so.

Currently prohibited are:

a. Launching a watercraft from Indian Creek and Curly Jack Day Use river access sites.

b. Launching or removing a watercraft from: Chamber’s Flat, Wingate Bar, Ferry Point, Independence and Coon Creek river access sites.

For more information about fire-related closures on the Klamath National Forest visit our website at or call 530.841.4451.

For more information about the fires, visit or call 530.841.4451. Maps, and copies of the closure orders, are available at Klamath National Forest offices.

Next Page »

Klamath River Resort Inn
Klamath River Resort Inn

Indian Creek

Indian Creek, downstream from the Eddy.

Thank you for your
support of Happy Camp News

Please help support Happy Camp News' free news on the web by using our Amazon links whenever you need to purchase something from Amazon.Com. Your support of this news service is very much appreciated.

Amazon.Com carries almost everything a person might want to buy - besides books they have music, clothing, housewares, and much more.

Search Now:

Happy Camp River Access Buck

A buck at the Happy Camp River Access.

Elk Creek Bridge

The Elk Creek Bridge.

Klamath River

Downriver, about four miles.