As one of the largest wildfires in California history burns in and around Yosemite National Park, Plumas County residents are breathing a sigh of relief — at least for the moment. That’s because we just escaped a potential wildfire disaster of our own.
Thousands of homes are sitting on the fringes of the Rim Fire, which has scorched more than 250 square miles of old-growth forest. And although the fire was considered 30 percent contained as of Friday, it likely will burn through the middle of September.
Just a couple weeks ago, evacuated Taylorsville residents were staring at columns of smoke, wondering if they would have a home to return to.
The Hough Complex fire, which burned more than 500 acres near Taylorsville last month, was just the latest in a series of seemingly yearly reminders of just how vulnerable we are in Plumas County. The Rim Fire could happen here at any time. If there is any doubt about that, last year’s Chips Fire and the 2007 Moonlight Fire are proof.
What kept the Hough Complex fire from becoming the Chips, Moonlight or Rim fires? The answer is simple: It was the quick and coordinated response by crews from the Plumas National Forest.
We are always quick to become Monday-morning quarterbacks when we think the Forest Service seemingly lets a fire get out of control. There have been many critics of the Forest Service’s actions in the Moonlight and Chips fires. So we should also be quick to give credit where it is due. In short, the Forest Service did an extremely good job of knocking down the Hough Complex fires as fast as possible.
And, remember, the Forest Service had to deal with dozens of fires around the county that were ignited simultaneously by the Aug. 18 lightning storms. Thanks to good planning and strategically placing firefighters and equipment ahead of the storm’s path, the Plumas forest crews were able to contain and control most of the lightning fires quickly.
More importantly, no lives, homes or structures were lost. And in the first 24 hours of the fires, saving the homes in the southern part of Taylorsville wasn’t a sure thing. The Forest Service gave credit to local volunteer fire departments for responding with 10 engines to provide structure protection.
Other community members pitched in as well. As the number of fire-fighting personnel grew to more than 500, Feather River College pitched in to feed hundreds of fire fighters. The Interagency Incident Management Team that set up camp in Taylorsville to manage the fire-fighting efforts was very thankful for the help and support it received from Indian Valley residents.
The team’s public information officer Manuel Madrigal said people from all over the area showed up at camp to provide refreshments and treats for the crews. “It has really been a pleasure for us to be here,” Madrigal said as the command team was preparing to leave the area. “Just the support we had when people would see us walking around the community ... it makes our firefighters feel really good.”
According to many Indian Valley residents, that “good” feeling was certainly mutual.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s field representative Tim Holabird told Plumas National Forest Supervisor Earl Ford, “I can’t express our compliments for the way the Hough Fire complex has been handled by your Forest in a professional manner without financial waste. The actions ... saved significant acres, and probably homes, from burning.”
Indian Valley and Plumas County survived a close call last month. But with two more months of fire season ahead of us, the possibility of another outbreak is very real. At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that the highly trained and dedicated firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service have our back.