An air tanker drops a load of retardant to help battle the Sheep Fire. Photo by Tom Esgate

Sheep Fire continues to threaten Susanville, Janesville

Thankfully, many resources — fire engines staffed with firefighters, watertenders, bulldozers, on-the-ground hotshot crews, inmate fire crews and massive air support from helicopters and large retardant bombers finally have converged in Lassen County to battle the stubborn, dangerous and fast moving Sheep Fire — a horrific nightmare that began Monday, Aug. 17 as an unusual mid-morning lightning storm quietly ignited five small fires on the Plumas National Forest, continues to threaten homes in Susanville and Janesville.

Some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted and some residents have returned to their homes, but the joy of the current warning status could collapse at any moment as the warning status could revert to an evacuation order at any moment, contributing to residents’ lingering uneasiness and concern.

A CalFire helicopter sucks up water from Emerson Lake at the Diamond Mountain Golf Club, scattering the visiting geese.
Photo by Carol Roberts


Information from Tom Esgate

In the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 25, got an update on the fire activity from Tom Esgate, executive director of the Lasssen County Fire Safe Council.

“It’s a nasty fire,” Esgate said.

He said the firebreak on Diamond Mountain designed to stop the fire before it got to Janesville is holding.

“So far it’s holding,” Esgate said. “They had one spot at the top of Baxter Creek, but it has not gone around it yet. They’ve got it tied all the way up to the top of Diamond Peak … at this morning’s briefing they didn’t show any escape past that line.”

That line is essential to keep the fire out of Janesville — an area where many houses are scattered throughout the forest.

“They made it essential we hold that line,” Esgate said. “If they don’t, it’s a whole new animal.”

According to Esgate, after the firebreak the terrain is just too steep to do anything.

Tubit Enterprises, a Lassen Fire Safe Council contractor, cut this contingency line west of Baxter Creek. Photo by Tom Esgate

“Your next place to stop it is on the other side of Janesville — Janesville Grade. There are a lot of homes between Baxter Creek and Janesville Grade. It’s really critical we hold this line. This is the spot. We have to catch it,” Esgate warned.

Esgate called the massive amount of air support that arrived Monday “incredible. They had every heavy tanker in the state. They had the DC-10, the 747s, multiple C-130s, the four-engine jet tankers, the smaller, newer ones— for three or four hours and they put a massive amount of retardant on that line. I saw the 747 coming out of the Susan River canyon, and they dropped a huge load of retardant right there.”

And Esgate said the threatened part of Susanville is another area of concern — Gold Run Road, the Susan Hills area, Hobo Camp.

He also said a fire this size normally would have many more firefighters on the ground, but it’s certainly better than it was three days ago. He said on a fire like this you’d expect to see 1,000 to 2,000 firefighters battling the blaze.

He said the amount of air support was amazing.

A DC-10 joins the fight against the Sheep Fire. Photo by Isaac Villalobos

“I guess they recognize how important it is we hold that line,” Esgate said. “That’s what they were doing — putting retardant down to hold that line. We’re feeling a lot better. You know we got blown off that line day before yesterday. They’d just gotten to the Diamond Mountain Motorway, and the fire made a huge loop and moved a mile in 10 minutes. Everybody had to go … It jumped 395 at the same time. The shit hit the fan all at the same time, but then it settled down. It’s looking better now.”

He said it was the Lassen County Fire Safe Council contractors who put in that line.

“They brought them down off the top of the mountain after their initial response and sent them to the Gold Run area. They worked their way around Richmond Road and they got to the Nagel Ranch, and they cut that line up there. It’s 200 feet wide.”

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