During a short but aggressive thunderstorm on July 30, a bolt of lightning struck in the back hills near Big Bar, starting a fire. It’s impossible to say how large it was seconds after the strike, but it’s safe to say it grew. From one blade of grass to the next, from one bush to another and from tree to tree, it grew outward.
Downriver drainages, over mountain tops and across valleys, it continued, sometimes crawling and carried by wind over roads and waterways. Over a month later, it has gone through and around Big Bar, Big Flat, Del Loma and almost to Helena. It took out homes and buildings in the above communities, as well as Junction City, along Dutch Creek Road and near Hayfork.
It resulted in the evacuations of several communities, having threatened many. Hundreds of firefighters and literally tons and tons of equipment kept the fire out of urban areas and backroad homes. By the end of the month, containment lines to the east and west divided the active area in two. The north section is still threatening the Denny area as it moves into the wilderness and the south end threatening areas of Hayfork and Hyampom.
The Monument fire is now at 185,505 acres and 41% contained, the U.S. Forest Service reported Tuesday morning, Sept. 7. The Inciweb information system says containment is expected by Nov. 1.
Monday night, fire and weather officials predicted the following days would bring increased fire behavior before a cool-down into the weekend. Alex McBath, operations chief for the California Incident Management Team 5, said the southwest area of the fire continues to push downward and west in the direction of Hyampom. He said fire personnel are trying to stay in front of the fire and are concerned that it could get into the Hayfork Creek area and push eastward.
He said crews were working along Hyampom Road where some fires had spotted over, prompting an evacuation order in the area. Crews were using a road grader to prepare an alternative route and may use the 60 Road if needed.
He said lines are in place but if the fire were to get past them and continue moving east, crews planned to use dozers to keep it out of Hayfork.
On the north end, the fire remains on the west side of the North Fork of the Trinity River and crews have established lines into Hobo Gulch, he said. The areas near Helena have been cold for a week and McBath said he was confident that the fire would remain on the north side of Highway 299.
In the area of Ironside Mountain to New River, the fire has been moving very slowly, as much as 1.5 miles in 14 days, McBath said.
The Corral Bottom Road area remains cold, and light patrols remain in the area looking out for new activity.
Meteorologist Bladen Breitreiter said temperatures have almost reached triple digits over the past week with single digit humidity levels. However, a disturbance entering the area from the Oregon Coast will bring increased wind and slightly higher humidity. A red flag warning was issued for Tuesday.
Breitreiter said temperatures will drop into the 80s by the weekend.
After saying Tuesday’s fire behavior would be unforgiving and aggressive, fire behavior analyst Jeff Shelton was the only official to make longer term predictions. He said that as the days grow shorter, sunlight will be unable to reach some valley floors until spring, making it harder to keep grasses and other fuels dry.
However, he and Breitreiter said the smoke may lift Tuesday and Wednesday, giving the fire room to breathe and spread.
“Tomorrow is going to be a big day,” Shelton said.
Shelton noted that Cal Fire went out of unified command Monday, leaving the entire fire to Team 5. However, Cal Fire resources are still on the fire and engaged in suppression, he said.