Erratic winds spreading Beckwourth fire to the northeast, threatening 395
UPDATE: Highway 395 has reopened, according to the CHP.
UPDATE: Expanded evacuation orders and road closures were announced Wednesday evening.
The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office announced expanded evacuation orders.
The Mandatory Evacuation Order has been expanded to include Doyle Proper on the west side of US 395 from Laura Drive to County Road A26. The Mandatory Evacuation Order remains in place for the dirt portion of Doyle Grade where the pavement ends approximately 3.4 miles south of US 395. There will be a road block at that point and a heavy law enforcement presence will remain in the area.
According to CHP-Quincy, Highway 395 was closed due to the fire. Highway 395 is closed from Laura Drive to County Road A26. Evacuees can access 395 to evacuate either north or south.
Two takeaways from tonight’s community meeting conducted by Incident Management Team 4 are that Highway 395 will likely close again and there is the potential for the fire to reach Herlong.
As of this evening, July 14, the Beckwourth Complex is now 95,747 acres with 73 percent containment.
This was a rough day for the fire. Jake Cagle said that at about 3 p.m., winds on a portion of the fire reached 50 mph, which causes spotting and caused aircraft to be grounded. The column is laying over to the northeast, which has forced a new mandatory evacuation area in Lassen County: In Doyle on Old Hwy 395 from Laura Drive west on Old Hwy 395 to Cowboy Joe Road and everything in between.
Dan Hardy, the incident meteorologist, explained that while the winds have remained consistent, the fire is burning so hot and dry that the extreme fire behavior can create its own wind and fire whirls. The same conditions are expected through Saturday. “I am seeing some higher humidity in the long range – start seeing a chance of thunderstorm on Sunday,” he said. The higher humidity is good news, but the potential thunderstorm could also increase the wind and fire activity.
Incident Commander Rocky Opliger acknowledged that firefighters had another difficult day, not just on the Beckworth Complex, but on the Dixie Fire in the Feather River Canyon and throughout the West.
Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton also addressed the fire’s growth today and its renewed threat to Highway 395 and more areas. Addressing the amount of containment that’s already been achieved he said, “It’s disheartening to feel like we are almost there and then feel like we are taking a step back. We are going to get this; we are going to get this fire.” He also reiterated what Opliger said — that this extreme fire behavior is not unique to Plumas.
The California Highway Patrol announced that Highway 284/Frenchman Lake Road is now open, but Carlton said that though the state route is open, the forest closure is still in effect so there is no access allowed. “A lot of the roads have hazard trees,” he said.
Highways 395 was open during the meeting, but “There is the potential that it will hit the 395 so expect a 395 closure,” Cagle said.
In response to questions about the status of structures lost, it was reported that assessment teams have still been unable to access areas.
In response to a question as to whether resources were diverted from the Beckwourth Complex to fight the Dixie, Cagle said no. “We put aircraft on no divert,” he said. However, they were still unable to fly this afternoon due to the winds.
One questioner wanted to know why planes don’t drop retardant ahead of the fire if it’s suspected that they will be grounded due to wind. Cagle explained that the retardant doesn’t extinguish a fire, it slows a fire, and if dropped too far ahead, it would dry out and be ineffective.
When asked if the fire would reach Janesville or Thompson Peak, Cagle said, that there was a lot of ground to cover to get there, but when asked about Herlong, he said, “Yes, the potential is there with extreme winds.”