As of Monday, the Monument fire had picked up speed again after being slowed somewhat by rain last week. The question on most people’s minds Friday morning was likely, “did the rain make a difference on the fires?” Speaking tactically, it may have been a little hard to tell because fire officials only briefly mentioned it.
Operations Chief Don Fregulia, with Incident Management Team 5, said Friday that the night before had been quiet.
“We did receive measurable precipitation over a majority of the fire area which was really welcome,” he said. “It knocked everything back and gave us an opportunity to potentially change a bit of strategy and tactics out here.” He said fire was active before the rain and had compromised a road in the area that was being used as a fire line. He said personnel fought the fire directly with hand tools and small equipment.
“Not much country for bulldozers out here,” he said. On the east edge the rain also allowed crews to fight the fire directly on the Canyon Creek side. Fregulia also pointed out that contingency lines have been made east of Canyon Creek as well.
Incident Management Team 13 Operations Chief Matt Ahearn reported similarly on the River Complex, saying “We did get widespread moisture across the entire incident so it’s going to give us an opportunity to get in and pick up some ground.”
However, just two days before, Ahearn was describing the fire activity near Coffee Creek as “explosive,” saying the wind was pushing it through the treetops in some areas. He said a couple residents chose to stay in the area as the fire made a push toward it. He said firefighters made some rescues and got people to the evacuation shelter.
On the Monument fire, Incident Meteorologist Bladen Breitreiter gave more detail about the rainfall.
“We did actually see wetting precipitation and what that means is we saw an observed precipitation of a tenth of an inch or more,” they said, about the southern end of the fire. “We saw about 2/10 of an inch as we got into the higher elevations up there.” Areas on the west end of the fire near Burnt Ranch and Willow Creek had no measurable rain.
“But, we did see overnight recoveries across both fires of about 8 to 100 percent,” Breitreiter said, “so that’s some fantastic news for us over here.” Humidity in the region has been very low throughout much of the fire, making it easier to ignite and spread through grass and vegetation. Breitreiter said temps into Friday would drop about 10 degrees because of the rain, with minimum relative humidity in the 20 to 30 percent range.
That weather slowed the fire, but in the next few days, it began to pick up again.
“Several days of stabilized weather conditions has allowed crews to make good progress on the active portions of the fire west of Hayfork, in the New River drainage, and along the East Fork North Fork Trinity River,” according to a report from Shasta-Trinity National Forest. As of Monday, containment was said to be at 43 percent on the 212,517-acre fire.
Brandon Cichowski, of the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 2, reported Monday that the north end of the Monument Complex was still an area of concern, due to ridgetop winds in the area. Running clockwise around the map of the fire, Cichowski said the black containment line running from Helena to Hayfork has been holding well as crews continue to mop up in the region.
West of Hayfork in the Hyampom Road area, crews have been burning for several days and doing cleanup in the southernmost areas.
“We’re feeling really good about this corner down in here,” he said. “Our resources have met and worked together for several days and it continues to look good. He said a few more days of activity in that area may be necessary for crews to be confident the fire won’t move around.
Closer to Hyampom along the Hyampom Road, fire has been stalled in steep areas by last week’s rain, he said, and hand crews may be able to snuff some areas, which would negate the need for firing operations there.
“One of the things that has us worried since it has been hung up in there is that this area is known for hazard trees and green trees and firefighter fatalities,” he said. “If that fire has been sitting in the area for a while, burning those green hazard trees, that is a concern as we go engage that directly, for the safety of our firefighters so we take all those things into account when we go in and look at an action like that.”
Tracing along the fire line to the northwest, Cichowski said the area features sparse vegetation and a lot of cliffs, so fire personnel are considering direct tactics there. He called the area a priority to reopen, since school has started again and people need to use Hyampom Road. Areas north of that are holding well, he said, adding that crews hope to extend containment lines there soon.
The containment line along Pacific Gas and Electric Co. right of way from Corral Bottom Road to the west is holding, along with lines reaching up into the Burnt Ranch area.
Going north into the New River/Denny area, crews have had some problems in recent days Cichowski said.
“There was a spot that got down here in the drainage,” he said, pointing to an area of the fire line north of Highway 299. “We worked it really hard with heavy helicopters yesterday and retardant. Some of our hotshot crews went in there and looked at it and the terrain was just too steep and we really couldn’t do anything with it.
“Farther north, crews were looking for advantageous ground to make lines around the inaccessible areas. He said contingency dozer lines have also been made farther west of the problem location.”
Cichowski said crews are utilizing the road systems as fire line to protect structures in Daily and Denny, and are hoping to steer the fire back into an area that burned in 2015.
Cichowski said that even though the Knob fire near Willow Creek is fully contained, it continues to show activity inside the fire perimeter.
“There’s still work to do in there,” he said. You will still see some smoke and every once in a while, may see an interior tree torching, but we have resources in there patrolling that and they are mopping up. It will be a little bit before we have our resources leave there.”