The 39,000 acre Bald fire is the largest of more than a dozen wildfires currently burning in the northern part of California, causing Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. The magnitude of the fires has reached beyond the control of local government, and Brown is calling in the state’s National Guard to provide disaster relief efforts. Close behind the Bald fire in magnitude is the Eiler fire, currently at 31,085 acres.
The Bald fire is burning in Shasta County’s Lassen National Forest, and as of 2:00 p.m. Tuesday had reached 39,850 acres. Evacuation had been ordered in Little Valley, but that order was lifted at 2:00 p.m. today and residents allowed to return home. The fire is only 30 percent contained. The Eiler fire is approximately 40 miles east of Redding and as of 9:36 p.m. on Wednesday was at 31,085 acres with 35 percent containment.
The Bald fire is about 50 miles east of Redding. It doubled in size on Saturday as it spread through dry six-foot tall brush and timber. Late Saturday it was exhibiting “extreme fire behavior.” The cause of the Bald fire is attributed to a lightning strike on July 30. BNSF railroad has dispatched a two-car fire train for fire suppression assistance. Fire trains carry fire equipment such as hose reels, nozzles and hand tools, along with tank cars carrying up to 14,000 gallons of water each.
Garrett Balen is one of 1,330 firefighters dedicated to the Eiler fire. He reported some help from Mother Nature today at approximately 8:00 p.m. as it “rained all day and is currently pouring,” with very little wind. InciWeb reports that the rain was insufficient to penetrate the canopy, and there is a chance of thunderstorms through today, with a Red Flag Warning for dry lightning in effect. Critically dry fuels continue to drive fire behavior, as it spreads north, east and southeast with high temperatures and low humidity.
Balen said his crew is on the edges of the main fire, prepping and burning off fingers of green, utilizing bulldozers to implement a fire line. The fire ran 7,000 acres in one night before his crew arrived, and at least eight houses have been lost. The Eiler wildfire began on July 31, and the cause is currently unknown. Temperatures in the high 80’s have hindered containment and a Red Flag warning for dry lightning is also in effect for this fire.
California Fire spokesperson Dennis Mathisen said the intensity and scope of the six major wildfires burning in the state is comparable to fire activity not usually seen until September. He said the only “silver lining” is that the fires are located mostly in sparsely populated areas and forests, so fewer homes are threatened.
The Bald and Eiler fires are just two of more than half a dozen fires of 10,000 acres or more burning in California. One week ago there were no fires of that magnitude in the state. U.S. Forest Service public information officer Jim Mackensen is working the Eiler and Bald fires, and said Monday that one of the main challenges facing fire managers is finding fire crews to respond. Resources are coming from all over the country.
Mathisen said that with low humidity, warm weather and some wind, all that is needed is a series of dry lightning strikes and a spark and that is a recipe for disaster. Inciweb predicts Sunday, August 17 as the estimated containment date for the 39,000-plus acre California Bald wildfire, and Wednesday, August 20 for the Eiler fire.
By Beth A. Balen