Every summer, District 3 and Tuolumne County residents worry about the prospect of a major fire. We’ve been extremely fortunate for a number of years, but the Mt. Knight Fire now burning north of Twain Harte is a vivid reminder that big fires can and do happen here.
To keep it from escalating further, suppression activity is ferocious: crews from around the state have joined local firefighters and the aerial assault being mounted is nothing short of amazing. Fortunately, there are no major fires competing for resources and the crews are relatively fresh. We’ve got a good chance of arresting this one before it becomes a major problem.
Below are two interesting reports. The first is an update I received from Pat Kaunert, USFS Public Information Officer, on the fire’s status as of this morning. The second, a report on fire-related traffic at the Columbia Airport. I visited the airport yesterday and as the photo illustrates particularly well, the crane helicopters are gi-normous!
I’ve been sitting in on daily briefings with our Emergency Services staff, CalFire/County Fire, the Sheriff’s Office, the USFS, Animal Control, Public Works, the Red Cross, and others and if there’s one thing that stands out, it’s the professionalism and preparedness of that team.
Only one summer residence community, the subdivision of Mt, Knight is threatened and firefighters are protecting it. Animal Control has been out to make sure pets and livestock are not at risk, the Sheriff’s Office is doing a great job restricting access to the area. On that subject, it is critically important that everyone avoids the area. The forest roads out there are narrow and there is a lot of fire equipment being moved in and out. Extra traffic on the roads is dangerous for our public safety folks and anyone who doesn’t have to be out there.
Pat tells me that we can expect the fire to continue on uncontained for several days because it is burning within the steep river canyon where it would be extremely dangerous to put firefighters. The incident command has decided to run two lines perpendicular to the river canyon and so far, is keeping it contained within the canyon.
I’ll be going out on the fire line tomorrow and will have more info and some photos which I’ll post. For now, the fire is behaving pretty much as the USFS incident command expects it to. Here’s Pat’s report.Wildland Fire Update – Wednesday, July 29, 2009 @ 7 a.m. Knight Wildland Fire – Stanislaus National Forest South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team – Incident Commander Allen Johnson Started: Sunday, July 26, 2009 @ 3:35 pm Cause: Under Investigation Location: 10 miles North of Twain Harte Acres: 1,332 – No estimated containment Estimated Costs: $929,000 Injuries: None Fuels: Burning in heavy timber/brush Committed Resources: 658 personnel potential: Extreme Personnel: 22 Type 1 hand crews, 3 Type II hand crews, 9 Helicopters, 27 Engines, 7 Dozers, 11 Water Tenders, 93 Overhead, 6 Air tankers Major issues: Steep, rocky inaccessible terrain, extreme fire behavior, active burning throughout night, hot, dry, low humidity. Significant events: Aerial mapping completed last night showing an increase in acres.
Today firefighters continue to battle the Knight Fire burning on the Stanislaus National Forest in the Middle Fork Stanislaus River Canyon. The Knight Fire is now under the Incident Command of Allen Johnson and the South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team. Incident Base is located in Hess Meadow and firefighters are working hard to gain control.
The Knight fire is burning in inaccessible terrain and currently there is no estimated time of containment. Steep and rocky terrain is impacting the accessibility of the area as firefighters continue to battle extreme fire behavior and rough working conditions.
Forecasted fire weather conditions remain hot and dry over the next few days possibly creating extreme fire behavior, multiple spot fires, and torching, with no relief during the evenings as the fire continues to burn actively throughout the night.
Yesterday, good progress was made on the top end of the Knight fire as dozers continue to construct dozer lines and working on secondary lines. Secondary line construction continues north of the fire on the ridge above the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River.
Agencies represented on the fire include United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Kern County, CAL FIRE, Tuolumne County Emergency personnel, Tuolumne County Fire, and Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department, Office of Emergency Services.
Here’s another report from Jim Thomas, Columbia Airport’s manager (on 7/28). The airport is quite a sight!
Things are a bit busy at Columbia Airport right now as I’m sure you can imagine. At the moment we have numerous helicopters operating out of the airport. I have closed the grass runway and we are parking the Type 1 helicopters (BIG ones, see attached picture) adjacent to the grass runway. A command center has been set up by the Forest Service and they are thinking about contacting SBC to get a hard wire telephone connection to it.
Right now there are four contract helicopter firms flying out of Columbia, each with a full crew of tenders, mechanics, fuel trucks, etc. All the groups are very cooperative. My guess is that there are between 100 and 150 people associated with the fire here.
I’m told the smoke is so bad in the canyon it has made it difficult to use fixed wing aircraft (the Cal Fire air tankers). Even the helicopters have been grounded from time to time because of the smoke. The Forest Service brought in a Cobra helicopter which is equipped with infrared sensors that allows it to fly through the smoke but it has not flown any missions yet.
We have only received one complaint so far and that came from a resident of Columbia Sky Mobile Home Park. The person said the helicopter flying over shook the entire house. I can understand this since the gross weight of the Air Cranes is around 40,000# and Columbia Sky is located in a direct line between the airport and the fire!