SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST – As the day shift gathered for their morning briefing on the French Fire at 0600, the smoke was probably heavier than on any morning since the fire started on Monday.
But mother nature cooperated, the inversion lifted, and helicopters were able to lift off from the Incident Command Post/Heliport in North Fork by mid afternoon.
Crews made some important progress today, accomplishing their major goal of helping to secure part of the line on the southern edge of the fire.
Fire officials list structure defense in the Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flat area as their highest priority at this time. A combination of hand and dozer line has been constructed from the San Joaquin River up the flank to Forest Road 4S81 (Minarets/Mammoth Pool Road), which is being used as an anchor point to secure the southern perimeter.
The major project planned for this afternoon was a burnout, north from that line, which is near Powerhouse No. 8. A burnout is an operation where the unburned vegetation inside the fireline is torched, thus eliminating fuel for the fire should it be pushed back to the south.
Though the fire reportedly presented problems for crews, firefighters were able to hold the direct fireline with the support of helicopters, providing a large measure of safety for residents of the Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flats.
Fire officials note that the anchor point and burnout operation is the highest incident priority. If not successful, the fire could continue to move to the south, where there is a much higher probability of it crossing the San Joaquin River due to topographic features.
So far, the fire is being held on that eastern flank and has not crossed the river. On the northern end, it continues to back down towards the Windy Point Boat Launch at Mammoth Pool. Firefighters are working hard to stop the spread to the north near the Mammoth Pool Reservoir. The fire’s northwesterly spread through Shakeflat Creek is still a concern.
Crews and dozers also made good progress today constructing direct fire line from the 4S81 Road to the west and continuing north of the 7S07 Road. They have also been working to open up contingency lines built last year in anticipation of the Aspen Fire crossing the river. With little rain this spring, not much vegetation had grown up in those lines, simplifying the work of preparing them in the event of a larger fire perimeter.
While crews did their job on the mountain, Liaison Officers Dennis Rein and Allen Johnson met with cooperators and interested parties at the Incident Command Post. The Bass Lake Ranger District, the Sheriff’s Office, Security, Cal Fire, the California Conservation Corps, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, Tom McClintock’s office and several others were represented as all shared information and concerns about resources and property being affected by the fire.
Cooperation and communication between all the agencies and interested parties is crucial to good planning and success, said District Ranger Dave Martin, because everyone is working toward the same goal.
The French Fire continues to produce large amounts of smoke, which has impacted local communities. Smoke is typically greater in the morning and evening hours. Plan outdoor activities for times and places with low smoke levels. Up-slope breezes occur during the day, which will often take smoke into higher elevations. In the evening, these winds change direction and bring smoke down slope to lower elevations. For more information about smoke impacts, please visit the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Districts website at: http://valleyair.org/wildfires.htm
A Forest Service Area Road and Trail Closure, Forest Order # 15-14-07, has been issued for the French Fire area. More information about the Forest Closure and the closure can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/o44cvyu.
Incident Meteorologist Jason Clapp predicts that high pressure will prevail over the area with little change in conditions over the weekend. There is enough lingering monsoonal moisture to produce a chance of thunderstorms over the crest of the Sierra. Temperatures are expected to be above normal throughout the remainder of the week. Erratic winds associated with the outgoing monsoonal moisture are a safety concern.
The fire is reported to be 15% contained this evening. The acreage is still listed as 7,024, but that number will be updated in the morning.
The French Fire was reported by Shuteye Lookout on Monday, July 28 at 5:45 a.m. and is burning along Forest Road 4S81 on the Bass Lake Ranger District.