The Walker Fire Incident Management Team gave some updated information and answered some questions from residents and evacuees during a community meeting today, Sunday, Sept. 8.
The Walker Fire, which started Wednesday, Sept. 4 in the Genesee Valley area of Plumas County, has since grown to 38, 049 acres as of the Sunday morning update from Plumas National Forest and is 5 percent contained. An updated acreage number will be available Monday morning.
The fire prompted the evacuations for the town of Milford, from the intersection of Highway 395 and Thunder Mountain Road north of Milford, to the intersection of Highway 395 and Laufman Grade south of Milford, Antelope Lake to the Plumas County line, the Genesee Valley road corridor, the Ward Creek area and the Flournoy Bridge area. All evacuations orders remain in effect Sunday.
Operations Section Chief Dave Updike gave an update on the Walker Fire, which grew quickly on Friday with the help of a huge thunderstorm. He said the Walker Fire went through about four days of growth in one day.
“We had a huge thunder cell that sat over top of that fire and basically was like a giant air drier and pushed all that wind down and the fire went every direction,” Updike said. ‘That was something that was unpredicted at the time.”
Now, though, some current efforts are focusing on going direct on the fire as it ggrows to the north and northeast
, using existing roads to hold it and building indirect lines to hold the fire. Crews were working on holding a corner of the blaze from reaching Antelope Lake, and getting ahead of spot fires.
One spot got ahead of itself to the east in the Round Mountain area. Resources were sent to construct fireline ahead of the fire while other crews continued their progress constructing dozer line around the south side of the fire to Ingalls Peak. Resources patrolled and secured the fireline along the southwest edge of the fire and held the fire at the 25N42 road.
Updike mentioned a spot fire that started Friday. In order to delay tactics, aircraft has been hitting it daily in order to get resources to it and get in front of it. Today, the bulldozers on the spot lines increased from two to 14 working each plank.
“Today is the day we get ahead of it,” Updike.
Updike explained how dozers, engines and fire operations were working to hold roads and build containments lines to build a box surrounding the blaze. Once the box is filled in, crews can start going more direct to make a smaller foot print.
Type 1 Incident Commander Jay Kurth, who took command of the fire this evening, shared getting resources has been a struggle for this fire as there were about 200 fires in Northern California. As the smaller fires are contained, though, resources should be added to the ranks.
During the community meetings, attendees were able to ask some questions regarding the fire, evacuations future plans.
When will the evacuation order be lifted? Kurth said crews were doing the best they could to contain the fire, which was about four miles from Highway 395, but couldn’t give a clear answer at the moment.
Will there be more evacuations tonight? Kurth answered he wouldn’t say no, but he also wouldn’t say yes. With weather, like strong winds, the fire could make unpredictable movements.
What resources are available for notices, could a siren be used? Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon mentioned Code RED, where residents can sign up to receive alerts based off where they live, but said the department also utilized IPAWS, the national alert system to send an “Amber Alert Type” notice to those in the area. Deputies, CHP and other agencies also went door to door to alert residents. While the department did use a siren during last year’s Whaleback Fire Evacuations at Spalding, they are more difficult in rural areas.
Are properties safe from looting in affected areas: Growdon said there is law enforcement in the evacuated areas 24/7 monitoring the area.
What’s the trigger point for a potential Janesville evacuation? Updike mentioned the trigger point, or management of action point, for Milford and Janesville were essentially the same location, 8 miles from Highway 395, but he looks at a variety of factors including weather, fire patterns, and direction. USFS ultimately told Growdon the fire had reached the management of action point for Milford, which prompted the Sept. 7 evacuations. Growdon noted the department was continuously monitoring the fire, as are USFS. Updike said right now the fire is threatening the northeastern portion, and there wasn’t a major threat of it going north to Janesville at that time. Growdon mentioned it would take about 10 hours to fully evacuate Janesville.
How far is the fire from Thompson Peak? Updike said the fire is about 8 miles form Thompson Peak.
How would Janesville School be evacuated? Should the situation arise where students need to be evacuated from the school, Growdon mentioned the students may be bused to a different location outside of Janesville for parents to pick them up.
When is dozer line expected to be completed? Updike said crews were working on finishing up some of the lines today, noting the area was “good dozer country.”
Are you confident in resources? Kurth mentioned the Walker Fire is a high priority fire in the country right now. Recently there have been about 7 different helicopters, six air tankers and two super soakers amongst the resources assisting in the fire. Also, Updike mentioned 18 engines and two water tenders stationed near Milford and Highway 395 to quickly tend to any potential fire spots.
What’s the level of fire activity at Stony Creek? A tip of the fire near Stony Creek, which is about 4 miles from Milford, Updike said, is still active but there are a lot of resources on it. He noted he was pretty confident on that portion.
Where can I get information? The Plumas National Forest’s Facebook page and InciWeb have been posting updates on the fire.
Why is acreage only updated once a day? The mapping is done overnight so the management team is able to get the updated information by morning.
When will USFS have unified command with Cal Fire? Currently, Cal Fire is only assisting on the blaze, assistant chief Eric Ewing said. Kurth mentioned there have been discussions but it hasn’t reached that point.
How do you get information if cell service or internet is down? OES director Mark Rotlisberger said updates are provided on JDX, and, if needed, will be used through the NOAA radio system.