Mt. Knight firefighting efforts intense

Crane helicopters at the ready at Columbia Airport
Crane helicopters at the ready at Columbia Airport, photo: Jim Thomas, 2009.

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!

6 thoughts on “Mt. Knight firefighting efforts intense

  1. Local radio isn't doing much reporting on the fire so thank you for keeping us informed. Ten miles isn't that far from home. Thanks again!


      1. Your report is thorough and helpful! There is also a great website <; that gives up-to-date info from the USFS, BIA, CAL-Fire and other agencies that are involved in fighting this and other fires.

        Please, Teri…Don't give apologies for the local radio station. They could do a much better job covering REAL local news. Even when $$ was more flush, they did the SAME JOB. Their inadequate coverage of our local fires and other news is not due to money. It's a matter of programming decisions that are dictated by ABC News and their syndicates.

        As for radio, we need alternative station badly! One that is not bent on singularly promoting its political agenda, one that does BALANCED reporting and truly embraces our life in Tuolumne County.

        As for firefighting, we are blessed to live in a region where our firefighters do just that…FIGHT fire. We are all immensely in debt to them.

        Thanks for giving local citizens a chance to share opinions and insights.


  2. Thank you for the update on the Knight fire. Your post is really the only way we are
    getting substantial information that is important to homeowners.


  3. Thanks for the details regarding the Knight fire. Coming home from Modesto at sunset yesterday, you could see the smoke "cloud" covering the southern part of the foothills towards Mariposa & Madera Counties. Hope the smoke isn't too bad up 108 & 120 for the residents. My eyes have been burning for 3 days and I live 50 miles from the fire! Keep the news and photos coming!


  4. Mt Knight Fire
    These firefighters are doing an excellent job. Not one cabin has been lost. They are working under extremely difficult conditions. Parts of the mountain are perpendicular and very brushy. Patrolling for spot fires is being done all the time. We are so grateful. This is our home.


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