Elk Complex Fire’s New Team Updates Happy Camp Meeting

The crwods are thinning at the Happy Camp Town Meetings at the Grange. There was no one from the Sheriff’s Department to tell us about evacuations. There was no one from Emergency Services telling us where to go for emergency shelter if we had to leave our homes. There was not even anyone from Mike Dietrich’s Team 1 National Team as they completed their two weeks and went home, or are going home now. Yesterday Kent Swartzlander, who was the original Incident commander on this fire, took over again.

Phulis Swanson, with Park Service patch on her shoulder, introduced the speakers. Don Hall, Deputy District Ranger for the Happy Camp District had just returned from a few days off. We were glad to see Don back, and glad that he had some time off and time for photos and jazz and “non-fire” activities.

Kent Swarzlander showed how all the fire’s are contained. There is a little concern on the east side of the Wingate/King/Titus whjere the fire had been spotty and some fuels left. But all in all, it is under control at this time. Even the little 80 acre Hummingbird Fire, although it never had bulldozers working on it has remained right at 80 acres and isn’t going anywhere. They need to keep monitoring, patrolling and mopping up. But with due diligence, it is not expected that anything will get away with flaring up and causing more problems.

 Harold Tripp mentioned that all the smoke is down in Somes Bar. That’s not pleasant, but the smoke has to go somewhere. Harold mentioned that he used to be against the backburn but has seen how well it works and has won him over.

Staffing on the fires is down from about 1200 to 900 and will likely go down to 500 strong before next weekend.  There was concern about repair and restoration that will be discussed further at the next meeting. The most common comment was to thank the firefighters, for their work and skills and professionalism. We also appreciate their help in keeping us informed about what was happening.

ONE LAST THING, is the appreciation for our own Fire Safe Council. Without the work that they and the Forest Service have done in removing fuels for a perimeter around our community this story could have had a much more disastrous ending. Duane put up a sign to thank the Fire Fighters, but we need to thank Duane Armbruster, George Harper, Carol Sharpe and all the people working on the Fire Safe Council helping year round to have our community prepared in the case of (inevitably) a wildfire. Tell them, “Thanks” when you see them, and volunteer to help them.. Next time, you may be glad that you did!!

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 http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/klamath/conditions or call 530.841.4451.

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

Monday Evening’s Meeting Emphasized That Fire Danger Still Exists

By Linda Martin

The danger to residents of the Live Oak Drive/Buckhorn Road neighborhood may have been thwarted thanks to intense control efforts on the part of fire fighters during the past few days. At a community meeting on Monday evening, Incident Commander Kent Swartzlander displayed maps on which he’d drawn fire lines for the Little Grider Fire. He explained that at this time fire fighters are tending flames burning through Perkins Gulch toward Buckhorn Road. They were expected to be completely controlled and extinguished by the time the fire line arrives at the edge of town.

Swartzlander said that though lines formerly considered trigger points have been crossed, and evacuations haven’t been called for, the reason why is that the fire is burning at a very low intensity at this point. It is more of a controlled burn and he no longer expects anyone in the area of Buckhorn Road to be evacuated.

Letters of appreciation were read and handed out. Dwayne Armbruster got one as representative of the Fire Safe Council’s fuels removal crew. Other letters went to John Evans for the assistance of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, to Ray Koons for doing a telephone tree to inform people about meetings, and to Harold Tripp and the Karuk Tribe for help they’ve given to the fire fighting effort.

Meanwhile the Wingate Fire spread east toward Happy Camp on the south side of the river on Sunday night due to 30mph winds. Most of the smoke in Happy Camp is due to this fire, about four miles downriver. Residents on Curly Jack Road have been contacted as fire crews located all dwellings. Fire fighters said there would be more traffic on Curly Jack Road as they try to stop the fire at Titus Ridge.

Other speakers at this meeting were Kirk Eadie, local assistant fire chief, and Alan Vandiver, Happy Camp District Ranger.

Sergeant John Evans of the Sheriff’s Department updated us on evacuations. He said that if evacuations take place, people without places to go to will now be asked to stay at the Seiad Elementary School rather than the Marble Mountain Ranch. The reason for the change is that now Highway 96 to Yreka is reopened, and the Office of Public Health decided this would be the best location.

Seiad Valley is only eighteen miles from Happy Camp. Evacuees with medical needs can be taken from there to Yreka. There are kennels in Seiad Valley for dogs and cats, but not larger animals. The Karuk Tribe has offered room at its ranch on China Grade Road for horses and other large animals that need to be moved. Space there is limited to 40 head of livestock.

As of Tuesday there’s a new Incident Commander for the Elk Complex Fires, which include the Little Grider Fire. Mike Dietrich, Fire Chief for San Bernadino National Forest, is leading Incident Management Team 5, and will supervise the Elk Complex Fires for the next few days. He congratulated Kent Swartzlander and fire fighters on his team for the “Herculean effort they put into this”. He warned, however, that the rains would not stop the fires and that they will be very difficult to put out because of the terrain here in the Klamath River Valley. He said “this is still a very serious situation” and that once the rain passes, it is expected to heat up again. He emphasized that his number one priority is fire fighter and public safety.

An audience member asked about the six injuries mentioned on the inciweb.com website. Valery Lambeth said these injuries are all minor. They include heat stress, a sprained ankle and a knee injury.

Before leaving the meeting, Kirk Eadie suggested the next meeting date be set. It was agreed that we will meet again on Friday July 20 at 7pm at the Happy Camp Grange Hall. Everyone is invited to attend for another fire update.

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.

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