While progress is being made on the wildfire burning near Eagle Lake, the general consensus during the Wednesday evening, Aug. 1 community meeting was “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
While crews are working on dozer lines to contain the Whaleback Fire, which was estimated at 18,680 acres Wednesday evening with 50 percent containment, there is still a concern for spot fires coming from various sources, including embers.
The blaze has been burning since Friday, July 27 and forced the evacuation of the Spalding tract, various campgrounds and camps, forced road closures on portions of County Roads A1, 21 and 231, and called for the advisory evacuation of the Bucks Bay and Stones Landing areas. The cause is still under investigation.
Just yesterday, Tuesday, July 31, crews had to react quickly to a spot fire that jumped a dozer line near Spalding toward Halfmoon Beach.
According to NorCal Team 1 Operation Section Chief Trainee Jeff Dupras, the spot fire threatened the historic cabin in the area, but it thankfully remains, despite the fire’s latest attempt.
All homes in Spalding remain untouched, thanks to firefighting efforts, but the threat still remains, fire and law enforcement officials said during the meeting.
“We are far from it being done,” said Jim Ferguson, Incident Commander for Cal Fire. “For the next five days, we’re in a red flag warning. The winds are going to get stronger each day, it’s still going to be warm, the relative humidity is really low, the fuel conditions are probably about two months drier than they usually are right now. So, the fire activity is very explosive”
Yesterday’s spot fire also reassured officials they were correct in maintaining the mandatory evacuation for the Spalding Tract.
“If you had been repopulated back in Spalding yesterday, and we had this 200 acre spot, there would have been another mandatory evacuation and that burnt so fast, there’s no way we could have gotten you out of there,” Ferguson continued.
Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon was on the scene when the spot fire pushed again toward Spalding. It was then the advisory evacuation was issued to the Stones Landing and Bucks Bay area.
“I thought we were going to lose some homes there,” said Growdon. “They did a phenomenal job saving those residences … I want to commend them on a job well-done there.”
Growdon also restated the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, with help from CHP and the Susanville Police Department, have been continuing with 24-patrol in the evacuated areas, and those under advisory evacuation.
Eric Ewing, from the Lassen County Office of Emergency Services, told the packed crowd officials were evaluating repopulation everyday.
“That spot that took off yesterday is what we were afraid was going to happen. And that potential still exists, even though there’s line around the fire,” said Ewing, adding the coming wind will be a test on those lines.
Factors playing into the decision to repopulate the area include the safety of the road leading into Spalding, air quality and the power outage.
Pat Holley, from Lassen Municipal Utility District shared an update about the line destroyed by the Whaleback Fire.
“We had hoped for the best, but when we got in a position where we could do aerial survey, it was worse than we expected,” Holley said of the seven miles of line in the area.
LMUD has ordered a large generator to meet the needs of those affected, but do not expect to have power restored to Eagle Lake areas until possibly early next week.
Overall, while there is a line surrounding the blaze and crews are doing everything they can, the threat of wind remains.
A National Weather Service meteorologist shared winds will continue through the weekend, with the worst expected on Saturday where gusts have the potential to reach 40 mph in the fire zone.
“Even though we have a good plan and we’re optimistic, the winds are going to test us,” said Nate Rezeau, Acting Forest Supervisor for the Lassen National Forest.
BLM also announced it was temporarily closing the public lands on the west side of Eagle Lake, and Lassen National Forest lands in the fire area. This will not affect Spalding residents’ repopulation.
Questions were asked during the meeting on whether residents would get an opportunity to visit residences again. Officials answered they reviewed the opportunities daily and would be sure to put information out should the chance arise again.
According to Ferguson, about 800 personnel are fighting the blaze, with the incident base at the Lassen County Fairgrounds, and has cost about $4.5 million so far. There are firefighters from 15 different states helping to fight the fire.