NORTH FORK – Just hours after crews completed firing operations along the southern perimeter of the Willow Fire, their work was tested by Mother Nature as gusts approaching 40 mph blasted through the Willow Creek drainage.
Just after 9 p.m. last night, winds began blowing from the north at sustained speeds of up to 16 mph, sending embers flying and keeping firefighters on their toes.
Whirlwinds were kicked up at the Incident Command Post in North Fork, as trash cans rolled and trailers rocked.
The event was over by about 11:30 and things returned to normal across the burn area, but the day shift will start by patrolling outside all containment lines, and the first aircraft over the fire is having a close look for any possible spot fires.
A portable RAWS (Remote Automatic Weather Station) that had been set up just north of Cascadel Woods on Forest Road 8S09, recorded the highest wind gust at 36 mph. The wind event was fairly localized as the RAWS station at Batterson Work Center, just north of Oakhurst, registered it’s strongest gust at just 7 mph.
Reports did come in to SNO from folks at Bass Lake that it was “incredibly windy” at about 10 p.m. last night.
Incident Meteorologist Dan Harty explains that surface high pressure over the crest of the Sierra, and low pressure in the Central Valley, creates a thermal trough as air moves from high to low pressure and gets channeled in mountain canyons such as Willow Creek. The difference in pressure from high to low is what determines wind speed.
Air Attack was over the fire at 8 a.m. and reported that everything looked good and any smokes observed were well inside the lines.
Firefighters worked through the night improving lines, doing mop-up and patrolling for spot fires outside the lines.
Today they will be continuing those operations, in addition to taking down snags, hauling out trash and doing rehab work around structures. Some demobilization of crews will likely start today, and they will certainly be needed on other incidents.
Air Operations will be releasing two of the large Type 1 helicopters today, along with the retardant plant if things look good after this morning’s assessment of the aftermath of the wind event. They will also be releasing two Type 2s and making them available for the many fires across the state.
The Willow Fire is currently estimated at 5,656 acres with 60 percent containment. There are 2,080 personnel assigned to the incident.
Residents are asked to be patient about returning to their homes. Last night’s wind is a good example of why the area is not yet safe. There is still a lot of heat near the lines from yesterday’s burnout, and significant potential for extreme fire behavior. Though the operations of the last few days were successful, nothing has changed about the drought conditions.
The community of Central Camp remains under a mandatory evacuation order.
The Cascadel Woods community remains under a mandatory evacuation order. This evacuation order includes all residences off of Road 233, Mission Drive, Peckinpah Acres Drive, and Cascadel Woods subdivision.
The Douglas Ranger Station Road mandatory evacuation was expanded to include the remainder of Douglas Ranger Station Road, Trails End Road, Wild Rose Lane, and Elderberry Road.
Willow Canyon Road, Central Camp Road, Autumn Ridge Road, Cascadel Road, and Douglas Ranger Station Road remain closed. All road closures are in effect until further notice.
Gaggs, Whiskers, and Whiskey Falls campgrounds are closed.