(Editor’s note: The title of this article was changed because the original headline incorrectly implied that the Fork Fire had reached the Lake Tahoe Basin.)
Resources are spread thin as firefighters continue to battle blazes around the state. To date, there have been 7,563 fires with over 2 million acres burned — a frightening new record for the state of California, which still has two full months of active fire season left to go.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region announced today that as of 5 p.m. all 18 national forests in California will be temporarily closed until further notice due to unprecedented and historic fire conditions throughout the state. Eight national forests had been closed as of the evening of Sept. 7, but following explosive growth of fires throughout California during the day and late evening of Sept. 8, the decision to close the remaining 10 was made. This includes Eldorado, Plumas, Tahoe, and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit national forests in our region.
“The number of large fires and extreme fire behavior we are seeing across the state is historic,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore in a press release. “These temporary closures are necessary to protect the public and our firefighters, and we will keep them in place until conditions improve and we are confident that national forest visitors can recreate safely. I ask all Californians and visitors to take these closures and evacuations seriously for their own safety, and to allow our firefighters to focus on the mission of safely suppressing these fires.”
Locally, the West Shore’s Fork Fire grew overnight to an estimated 2,500 acres and as of 11 a.m. is at 0% containment. The fire was reported at approximately 11:15 a.m. yesterday off Wentworth Springs Road, east of Gerle Creek and south of South Creek Road, near Loon Lake under red flag conditions. It continues to burn 15 miles northeast of Pollock Pines and the cause remains under investigation.
Fueled by sustained east winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, the fire was spreading at a high rate of speed toward the 2014 King Fire burn scar in the Rubicon drainage on the Georgetown Ranger District. Evacuations are in effect for Loon Lake, Gerle Creek, and Rubicon Trail area. A temporary evacuation center has been set up at the Cool Community Church at 863 Cave Valley Rd. in Cool.
After an active night of fire activity, spotting has occurred in the Rubicon drainage. According to this morning’s incident report, crews are working to “protect critical hydroelectric infrastructure and a critical high voltage KV line that provides power to the Sacramento region.”
As a precautionary measure on Tuesday, the Placer County Sheriff’s Department evacuated the Hell Hole, French Meadows, and Oxbow reservoir and campground areas. The fire comes on the heels of a busy Labor Day weekend in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in outdoor activity. In response to the predicted critical fire weather, the U.S. Forest Service announced the emergency closure of all campgrounds and day-use areas in the state of California, so the recreation areas were already mostly empty.
“We really want to express our thanks to the visitors who left yesterday when we asked them to,” said Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais. “The Crystal Basin is a very popular recreation area and there were a lot of people here for Labor Day weekend. Some may have cut their vacation short, but they are safe and that’s the most important thing.”
The Fork Fire is anticipated to spread rapidly through the Rubicon canyon in a westerly direction toward the communities of Quintette, Volcanoville, and Georgetown. A red flag warning remained in effect until noon today for portions of the Tahoe and Eldorado national forests southwest of the Sierra Crest in parts of Nevada, Placer, and El Dorado counties, and smoke may be visible from the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Alpine Meadows, Olympic Valley, Foresthill, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Find the latest information at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7165/.
Meanwhile, the North Complex Fire — consisting of numerous lightning fires being managed as one incident following a storm that moved over the Plumas National Forest on the morning of Aug. 17 — yesterday spread over the Middle Fork of the Feather River and continues to burn south of the river. Smoke may continue to be visible to the northwest of Truckee today, although a change in winds has cleared smoke out of the area. Smoke drifting into the area and a highly visible, massive pyrocumulus cloud yesterday — which reportedly extended nearly 40,000 feet into the air — led to numerous 911 calls. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office put out a plea on social media reminding people that there are many fires in the area.
“Please do not call 911 to ask where the smoke is coming from,” the statement read. “Our regional dispatch center has been inundated with ‘reports of smoke’ and these calls potentially tie up emergency lines to report an active fire or other life-threatening emergencies. As a reminder, 211 is also a great resource for information.”
211 Connecting Point is a non-emergency resource information hub serving Nevada and Placer counties and the Tahoe/Truckee region, and is accessible by phone 24/7 by dialing 211 or online at 211connectingpoint.org.
Smoky conditions could return tomorrow depending upon fire activity and a possible return of zephyr winds, according to the National Weather Service. Smoke and reduced air quality are even more likely to return come the weekend as low pressure approaches the West Coast by Saturday. Expected gusty winds, along with decreasing temperatures from Sunday through Tuesday and precipitation unlikely, will keep fires active.
With yesterday’s spread, the North Complex Fire grew from 40,843 to 150,140 acres and dropped from 51% to 38% containment. Numerous evacuations were ordered through the overnight period and with the fire spreading at a rate of 1,000 acres per 30 minutes, an additional 80,000 acres were added to the southwest of the original North Complex Fire footprint. Additional evacuations are expected today with continued erratic fire behavior anticipated.
For the latest up-to-date information, visit the Facebook pages of the Plumas, Butte, and Yuba counties’ sheriffs’ offices or go to an interagency hub at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6997/.