A Few Questions And Answers About The Fire

By Linda Martin

Lots of people here have questions about the fires, and the fire fighters working in our town are helpful in sharing information that both educates us about how fires are controlled, and quells our fears. Here are a few questions, and answers.

Q: Why is there a new fire on the hillside above the airport, and why aren’t the helicopters dumping water on it?

A: It appears that a crew is burning underbrush along one of the old logging roads. The helicopters won’t want to interfere with this operation, which is intended to provide a fire break to keep the Little Grider Fire from spreading to inhabited areas in the forest near Happy Camp.

Q: Why aren’t there helicopters working constantly to put out the fire?

A: The heavy smoke during morning hours makes helicopter use impossible. When inversion lifts and smoke dissipates at around 3pm, the helicopters have a small window of opportunity to get into the air and work on dowsing the flames.

Q: Why are so many fire fighters standing around in town while our forest is burning?

A: Nobody works around the clock. They need to rest at times. There are hundreds of fire fighters here, most of whom are in the forest working where we can’t see them. For example some are involved in surveying forest roads for possible fire breaks. Caterpillars have been working to widen roads. In one area the terrian was so steep, a cat got stuck and it took two others to pull it out. And many of those crews we’re seeing, waiting around town now, are positioned here to protect our homes if the fire gets too close.

Q: Why are there no airplanes dropping fire retardant?

A: Probably because the terrain makes it unsafe. We are lucky to have the Klamath River to pull water from, and many locations are only accessible by helicopter. The big choppers including the Sky Crane can drop 2500 gallons in seconds, and are an effective way to stop the fire.

What I Should Have Said On The Channel 12 News Broadcast From Medford, Oregon

By Linda Martin

Usually I get no personal phone calls while I’m at work. I’ve asked my family not to phone me unless it is an emergency. So I was surprised Monday to get two phone calls – both from media reps who located this news site for information on the Happy Camp fires, and who wanted more information. One was Tim Conroy, a newscaster for Channel 12 out of Medford, and the other was Heather Muller, a reporter for the Eureka Standard, who wrote an article: Local Cal Fire crews sent to Siskiyou fires.

The newscaster calling from Channel 12 in Medford wanted me to speak on the air, via phone. My first reaction was to refuse. I feel I’m not the person who should represent Happy Camp. There are many others who have been here much longer, or who have much better information about the fires. Plus I’m not much of a talker; I’d rather write. But the man convinced me to speak as a private citizen, to give my impressions of what is going on here. I agreed to do it so he wouldn’t have to spend much time on the phone doing research to find someone willing to talk.

It was a painless experience though I expected that there would be people in Happy Camp who disagreed with me, or didn’t like what I said. Getting negative comments from people who don’t like what you say or write is the price paid for doing anything in the public eye. However so far I haven’t had any negative feedback regarding this short interview, so I have nothing to tell you about. If anyone is complaining, it isn’t me they’re complaining to.

I was announced as someone who was in the path of the fire. It sounded like the flames were bearing down on my house at that moment. However, though I’m in the area that may possibly be evacuated, from Doolittle Bridge to Chambers Flat, so far I feel fairly safe. It doesn’t bother me to go to sleep at night in the house.

I was asked how people in this town are reacting to the fire and said that people who have lived here a long time are not worried about it. They lived here at the time of the fire that threatened the town from Slater Ridge, in 1987, and aren’t panicking about what’s happening now. Even people whose homes are in the threatened neighborhoods are calm; they watch the fire from Elk Creek Bridge, or from Curly Jack Road, but nobody seems to be heading out of town. Only a few Elk Creek Road residents have been evacuated from an area eight miles south of town, due to the Titus Fire. So everything is calm here in Happy Camp.

I don’t think that’s what the newscaster wanted to hear, but it is accurate.

But you know how it is – when you’re in that kind of situation, you never manage to say the most important things – and those are the words that keep going through my head since then. So I decided to share those thoughts with you.

First of all, I wish I had said that Happy Camp will still be here after the fire. We’re not about to be burned off the map. Nobody expects that. A few outlying neighborhoods might get singed, but the thought of flames roaring through the streets of our town is something that most of us would laugh at. The town will survive just fine, and if you’re not a resident, we hope you’ll become a visitor after the smoke clears and the roads are opened again.

Second, I wish I had mentioned that Happy Campers are tough and rugged people, and that the flurry of fire fighting activity in our town doesn’t alarm us. Anyone living out here in the middle of the forest for any length of time is going to have to toughen up in many ways. For example, many of us, even women, chop wood all winter long to keep warm. We get used to driving eighty miles for things we need. Furthermore we’re very much used to seeing fire fighters and their trucks all through our town. This happens almost every year – though usually the fires are further away from town. A year without a huge fire nearby is unusual. So nobody is panicking or impressed by the number of fire trucks rolling through the streets of our town. It makes things more colorful with the bright red and pale green vehicles, and it gives us new and interesting out-of-towners to talk to – but that’s about all. We’re not distressed; this feels like a normal summer to us.

Third – I wish I had said that Happy Campers whose homes are threatened by the fire are not especially worried because they have a lot of confidence in the professional fire fighting teams that have been brought in to protect us and our neighborhoods. We all think very highly of our District Ranger, Alan Vandiver, and since he has assured us that the personnel assigned to this fire are all top quality fire fighters, we’re sure that they’ll do whatever can be done to keep flames out of our town and away from our homes.

Little Grider Fire Update

By Linda Martin

I haven’t received any new official Forest Service news updates about the fire, so I’ll share with you what I’ve heard. So far the only evacuations that have taken place are those along Elk Creek Road, south of town. Residents living past Five Mile Bridge have been asked to leave voluntarily. The Titus Fire is heading east toward Elk Creek. Miners and campers have been forced to leave the area, and access to Norcross Campground is no longer allowed.

Meanwhile the Little Grider Fire in the hills west of Happy Camp continues to grow. At this point hundreds of fire fighters have been redirected from other areas in our forest and are now gathered here to help save the town of Happy Camp from incineration. The fire is moving toward Buckhorn Road, and the residents in the Live Oak area may be asked to evacuate within the next 24 hours. This will impact approximately thirty families. An old logging road in that area is being widened and fires are being set to burn out brush in the area, in hopes of slowing the Little Grider Fire as it heads toward this populated area on the west side of Indian Creek. Smoke coming from the top of the hill above the airport is most likely being intentionally set by fire fighters.

Smoke conditions this morning were not favorable for flying, but helicopters are now dropping water on the fire, including a Sky Crane Tanker with 2500-gallon capacity, a CH53 Super Stallion Tanker, and at least three other smaller capacity helicopters with 100 to 250-gallon buckets. Fixed wing aircraft with fire retardant are not being used, most likely because of the terrain being unsafe for them.

The Forest Service is posting updates online at Elk Complex Updates. According to the most recent update the Little Grider Fire covers about 636 acres, and continues to burn downhill towards Perkins Gulch. The Titus Fire covers approximately 1408 acres. It burned over Titus Peak towards Elk Creek yesterday and lines have been constructed around homes in the area.

Long time residents of Happy Camp are not worried. They remember the fires of 1987 when flames threatened the town from Slater Ridge and evacuations were considered. The people I’ve talked to who have been here long enough to remember that fire, twenty years ago, believe that the fire fighters are competent and able to save their homes. I hear this even from people whose homes seem to be in the path of the fire. Others who haven’t experienced fires so close to their homes seem far more concerned.

Forest Fires Near Happy Camp May Force Evacuations Sunday and Monday

By Linda Martin

A new forest fire burning in the hills north and east of the Happy Camp airport may force evacuations of homes around the airport and in Indian Meadows by midday Sunday or Monday morning. More information will be posted as it becomes available if possible. My home is one of those that may have to be evacuated unless the fire is brought under control.

According to a local deputy, bulldozers may be used to widen a forest road behind the airport in an attempt to stop the fire from proceeding into Happy Camp through the area around the airport.

Another fire is burning in the hills south of Elk Creek on the south side of the Klamath River. This fire can be clearly seen from Highway 96, and may threaten homes along Curly Jack Road.

Update, 9:04am – The fire is heading toward Happy Camp. Fire fighters are mapping out home locations in order to provide protection should the fire get close to them. A town meeting will be held at 11am at the Happy Camp Grange Hall to discuss evacuations.

John Evans
Happy Camp deputy John Evans announced evacuation plans at a meeting on Sunday. You can click on this picture for a full size photograph on which the fire maps can be clearly seen.

Update, 11:51am -  I attended the meeting at the Grange. This was one of the best attended community meetings, ever. The place was packed. Valery Lambeth, Plans Section Chief, was MC. The fire above the airport is being called the Little Grider Fire. Rob Rowley, a corporal from the Sheriff’s Department in Yreka is here to help with evacuations. He will work with the Office of Emergency Services after the fire to help with any needed reimbursements.

Marcia Armstrong, our County Supervisor, attended and spoke to us of her support for this town in this time of crisis. Next up was Alan Vandiver, Happy Camp District Ranger. He told us he has over thirty years working with forest fires and gave us confidence that there’s a competent and effective fire fighting team working on controlling this fire.

Kent Swartzlander is the Incident Commander. He provided an overview of the fires currently burning around Happy Camp, including the Little Grider Fire, which is threatening our community.

Local Sheriff’s Dept. Sergeant, John Evans, was next to speak. He told us that evacuations, if needed, will take place from Doolittle Bridge on Indian Creek, all the way south through town to Chambers Flat on Highway 96. He said that if you leave your home you should put a note on the door telling where you’ve gone. That way deputies won’t waste time looking for people who are not on the premises.

Evacuees are requested to drive west from town as there are other fires near Highway 96, east of here. Sheltering for evacuated Happy Campers will take place at Marble Mountain Ranch near Somes Bar. There is limited room for livestock in that location, but it would be preferable for pet and livestock owners to find other accommodations for their animals if at all possible. It is not mandatory for evacuees to go to Marble Mountain Ranch – it is intended as shelter for people with no place else to go.

The area beyond Five Mile Bridge on Elk Creek Road is being evacuated at this time, however this is a conservative distance from fire danger, chosen because there’s a gate that’s easily closed. The residents between Five Mile Bridge and the Klamath River, including Curly Jack Road residents, are not considered at risk at this time though there are quite a few fires burning on that side of the river.

If you have any special needs, you are requested to write them out. A form we received at the meeting asks for your name, information about your special need, your address, your phone number, and your transportation requirements. This information must be taken to the Sheriff’s office in Happy Camp as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask for help.

John Evans stated that they are requesting that people be ready to evacuate within ten minutes, even if woken up at 3 in the morning by a uniformed deputy knocking on your door. The time to pack and get essentials together is now.

Valery Lambeth, Plans Section Chief, MC’d the meeting.rob-rowley.jpg
Rob Rowley of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department is here to help coordinate evacuation efforts, if needed.

Kent Swartzlander is Incident Commander for the Little Grider Fire.

Alan Vandiver, Happy Camp District Ranger, promised to answer every question before leaving the meeting. Here he is talking to Chris Sorenson, chairman of the Happy Camp Chamber of Commerce.

More Lightning Wednesday Evening in Siskiyou County

YREKA, CA—In Siskiyou County, more lightning occurred on Wednesday, July 11, as about 118 more down strikes hit the forest. Luckily, some rainfall came with this lightning storm. Overall, about 55 fires were started by storms this week, with approximately 32 of the fires active as of Thursday morning. The other 23 fires have been either contained or controlled. Most of the fires are less than 10 acres in size; however, some fires are just now being looked at due to their extremely remote and rugged locations.

As of Thursday, July 12th, the Klamath National Forest formed the Elk Complex in the Happy Camp Ranger District that has a number of the lightning-caused fires close to private property, as well as many others scattered throughout the district. A Type II Incident Management Team, with Kent Swartzlander as Incident Commander, is taking over management of the Elk Complex starting at 6:00 pm tonight. Three of the known fires within that complex are causing some concern (the Elk Fire, about 10 acres; the King Creek #2, about 40 acres; and the Tom Martin, about 10 acres). The Tom Martin Fire is about one and a half-miles south of the small town of Hamburg along Highway 96. No structures are threatened at this time, and an air tanker is being used to help the firefighters on the ground.

The Oak Knoll Ranger District has five confirmed fires, with three of them controlled. Of the two active fires, the China Fire is one mile north of China Peak, and is using an air tanker to help firefighters tackle this blaze. It is currently about 10 acres in size. Smoke from this fire may be seen from the Yreka and Fort Jones area, as well as from along Highway 96 near the town of Klamath River.

The Scott River Ranger District has seven fires in total, with five of them staffed at this time. Two of the fires are within or near the eastern edge of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The Back and Sky Fires are about 10 and 25 acres in size, respectively. Heavy fuels and extensive mop-up are the concerns for these fires.

As of the morning of Thursday, July 12th, about 16 fires have been reported on the State Responsibility Areas protected by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE); the largest is about 10 acres in size. All of these fires are contained.

The CAL FIRE information line is now available at (530) 842-2266. This number will have information on the fires managed by the Forest Service and CAL FIRE in the county, and will be updated as the situations change.

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