Smith River Complex in Northern California inches toward containment | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Smith River Complex in Northern California inches toward containment

Over 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze on Friday — half the number of firefighters from three weeks ago.

(CN) — Containment of the Smith River Complex in Northern California has leapt in three weeks to almost 80%, though over 1,000 firefighters continue to work the blaze each day.

It’s grown about 10,000 acres since late August, reaching 94,168 acres as of Friday morning. But changing weather has helped firefighters battling the blaze at the California-Oregon border.

“Certainly, working in lower temperatures makes it easier for all our firefighters,” said Larry Kurtz, public information officer for the Smith River Complex.

Kurtz said that despite the growing containment of the complex, much work remains. Helicopters and hotshot crews are used to cut line, meaning the crews cut into the earth until reaching “mineral soil.”

“So if the fire comes up to it, there’s no fuel to burn it further,” Kurtz said.

Full containment comes when there’s a line around the entire complex.

Officials have said that the complex — several fires in the region under one management team — began on Aug. 15 when a storm with lightning strikes moved through the area. The fires led to evacuations in Oregon and California, though many have since been rescinded.

The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday announced the lifting of some evacuation orders, though a Level 2 notice — a high probability of a need to evacuate — still existed in other spots.

All county roads were open at the time. Parts of the Six Rivers National Forest are open to the public.

“We’re doing well,” Kurtz said. “We’re making good progress on the fire.”

As of Friday, 1,441 firefighters were working the blaze — half the amount from three weeks ago. Kurtz said as containment grows, the need lessens for people on the ground.

Twenty-five firefighters have been injured while fighting the blaze. Kurtz said it appeared the injuries were related to illnesses. There have been no deaths.

The fire has destroyed five buildings and damaged two.

“We are slowly moving toward 100% containment,” Kurtz said. “This takes time, a lot of manpower and a lot of equipment to make this happen.”

Rain in the forecast always helps, though there’s danger of flooding in burn scars. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Del Norte County from Sunday afternoon to late Monday.

Plants soak in moisture, meaning high humidity is a boon to firefighters as well. That moisture makes the plant less likely to burn and makes it take longer for it burn. High humidity will slow a fire’s spread.

“The humidity right now is definitely going up,” Kurtz said. “We’d like to make it higher.”

Smoke from the Smith River Complex has reached areas far to the south. The Bay Area on Friday had particulate matter in the air that made it unhealthy for people in sensitive groups, like older people and those with heart or lung disease.

That level of particulate matter in the air extended to the Sacramento area, though it was only moderate in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“I think we are definitely being impacted by the Smith River Complex,” said Joe Fish, deputy air pollution control officer with the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District. “The Smith River Complex is definitely putting out a lot of smoke.”

Rain is forecast in the area for early next week, which should help firefighters with their job. It also washes the air and helps improve air quality.

Categories / Environment, Regional, Weather

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