Forest Service responds to Board of Supervisors questions about Chips Fire

Dan McDonald
Deputy Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree updates the Plumas County Supervisors on Forest Service efforts to battle the Chips Fire.    Photo by Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

“We are committed to stopping this fire. Every day we plan to turn the corner on this.”

That was Deputy Plumas National Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree’s message to the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Crabtree, along with Forest Supervisor Earl Ford and Public Affairs Officer Lee Anne Schramel, briefed the supervisors during the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 7, meeting.

After Crabtree brought the supervisors up to date on the Chips Fire, some of the board members asked Crabtree how long it took the Forest Service to respond to the fire after it was spotted about 2 a.m. July 29.

“We are very interested to know what happened between 1:45 a.m. and noon,” board chairman Robert Meacher said.

In order to get specific times, Crabtree returned to his Quincy office and responded to the supervisors via email.

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall read Crabtree’s email aloud during open session later that morning.

Following is the text of Crabtree’s email:

A Forest Service engine crew first reported this fire at about 2 am. The fire was estimated to be 10-25 acres. Three Type 1 crews were ordered immediately. At 3 am a heavy resource order was placed for: 8 Type 1 crews (hotshots), 3 air tankers, multiple helicopters and a rappel crew. At 3:30 am the Incident Commander was on the fire and pegged the fire at 15 acres and burning actively. First crews arrived at 6 am on the fire. First retardant drops were made by 10 am. By 1 pm (fire was 25 acres) there were multiple air tankers, 2 Type 1 helicopters, 8 Type 1 crews, and 7 engine crews fighting this fire. The fire was held at 25 acres for three shifts. The terrain and fuel loading in the vicinity of the fire has made this a very difficult fire to contain even with the best fire fighters and equipment available. We will continue to fight this fire aggressively but provide for firefighter safety.”


Briefing to supervisors

During Crabtree’s briefing to the supervisors, he emphasized the challenges associated with fighting an out-of-control wildfire in rugged terrain.

“This is a tough, difficult, dangerous fire,” Crabtree said. “We have been hammering away on this fire with all the resources that we think we need for several days now.

“And it is continuing to grow. And it’s growing on several sides. But we are committed to stopping this fire.

“Our theme is putting the right resources in the right place at the right time. We will use every resource that is available to us.

“When you have a forest that is as dry as ours, and when you have spot fires a mile in advance of the front at times, there is just a limit to how much dozers and air tankers will do for you.

“I was down on the highway (the morning of July 29) when this fire started. It was 25 acres and we had three of the largest-type of helicopters we could get working that fire.

“We thought we were going to catch it. We had firefighters on the hillside going, what we call, ‘direct’ ... building a line right on the fire line. We went at that for three days. The fire kept growing.

“We were hurting people every day. And we said we have got to bring in another team — which we did. We brought in a Type-1 team — the best fire team we can get. And they have a plan to contain this fire in about a 30,000-acre boundary.

“We will cut it off smaller if we can. If we can’t, we have contingency plans in place.

“Every day we plan to turn the corner on this fire. The folks that I met with in the fire camp (Tuesday) morning ... they are planning to turn the corner on this fire today.

“And if we don’t, we are going to put a plan together to turn the corner on this fire tomorrow.

“The agency is committed to this.”


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