Bald Hill Three Fire Burns Fast and Hot
By RHONDA BIGOVICH, Two Rivers Tribune
On Friday, Sept. 12, at around 3pm, an accidental fire was lit by a piece of heavy equipment at a Bald Hill logging site. A diesel engine caught fire and quickly created a catastrophe for Bald Hill residents, some of whom were ordered to evacuate their residence.
The Bald Hill Three Fire is now about 210 acres and more than 85 percent contained. It is expected to be 100 percent contained by mid-week without much additional growth.
Ralph Brown, Fire Divisions Chief for Hoopa Wildland Fire said, “The first two engines on scene were Hoopa Wildland engine 9531, Yurok engine 661 and an initial attack team,” Brown said. “By the time we arrived the fire had already taken off.”
“My first thought was to call for air support and to protect the face of Bald Hill,” Brown said. “We immediately called for retardant on the south side of the mountain.”
Nels Nelson, Fire Capitan of engine 9531 said, “When we got to the scene it was estimated that the fire was 10-20 acres in size. The fire was moving uphill rapidly, with isolated torching and short duration crown runs. The fire spotted ahead of the main fire a quarter-mile ahead.”
Immediately air and ground support ordered and by the end of the first evening the fire had burned through 175 acres. Twelve families were evacuated.
Kevin Lane, Hoopa Wildland Fire Chief said, “The fire activity increased because of high temperatures and low relative humidity.”
There were extensive combustible fuels ready to ignite, spot fires kept all the firefighters on their feet throughout the night.
“It was hard to say what this fire was going to do. It crept into brush and was burning through snags,” Brown said, “At the beginning we could not get closer than 50-100 feet to the fire and it is still advancing to the northwest going toward Klamath,” Brown said.
Hoopa Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said, “We set right into emergency mode. We closed the Neighborhood Facilities in order to use it as an evacuation center.”
No one actually used the evacuation center, however several families were housed at the Tsewenaldin Inn overnight. The evacuation order was lifted the next evening at around 6pm.
Mike Minton, Incident Commander for the Bald Hill Three Fire said, “Traffic and community safety is priority. It is important to protect natural and ceremonial values, watershed, spotted owls and cultural resources.”
As of Monday there were 12 hand crews, 16 engines, 4 water tenders, 4 bulldozers and 3 helicopters assigned the Bald Hill Three Fire. There were a total of 400 hundred firefighters.
The quick response from all fire departments such as Hoopa wildland Fire, Hoopa Forestry Department, The Hoopa Volunteer Fire Department, Cal-Fire, and the U.S. Forest Service worked well into the night to contain the Bald Hill Fire to prevent it from burning any homes.
Fire crews will now work to remove as much as hazardous trees that might drop onto power lines, or a cross roads. The crews will start actions to preventative erosion damage. Weather conditions will begin to change in the next week. Cooler days and a chance of light rain are anticipated.
The public is reminded that there will be large amounts of fire equipment moving through the Hoopa Valley for the next several days and to use caution when driving in both the fire area around the fire camp set up at the Wildland Fire Department.