Photo Courtesy of USFS/Plumas National Forest. Photographers– James Ruskin and Matt Caple

Temperatures Set to Soar, Escalating Wildfire Risk

By Stephen Kulieke

With temperatures in parts of Sierra and Plumas Counties set to soar above the century mark this coming weekend, heat-and-drought-plagued California is already outpacing last year’s disastrous wildfire season for the number of fires and the acreage burned.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), between January 1 and July 4, 4,599 fires scorched nearly 74,000 acres in the state. In the same time frame last year, 3,847 fires torched more than 31,000 acres.

Two of those fires, started separately by lightning, are currently burning in Plumas County and being administered collectively as the Beckwourth Complex Fire.

The Dotta Fire ignited June 30 in the area of Dotta Canyon in higher elevation timber and crossed over Horton Ridge into Horton Canyon.

The Sugar Fire, 4 1⁄2 miles to the southeast of the Dotta Fire, ignited July 2 west of Sugarloaf Peak at a lower elevation characterized by grassland and sagebrush— at one point burning across Highway 70 in Sierra Valley.
The highway was temporarily closed but reopened.

The direct attack on the fires has involved firefighter crews, helicopters, bulldozers, engines, and water tenders. On Wednesday morning, direct and indirect handlines around the Dotta Fire were holding with no new growth; the Dotta Fire stood at 670 acres with 40% containment. On late Tuesday afternoon, however, gusty southwest winds of 20-35 mph pushed the Sugar Fire across its containment lines. The fire grew from 490 acres to 2,365 acres overnight in a northeast direction toward Reconnaissance Peak.

The official report stated: “Air tankers flying out of McClellan Air Tanker Base dropped multiple loads of retardant to slow the fire’s spread, allowing firefighters on the ground an opportunity to safely attack the spreading fire.”

Due to the flareup, a Mandatory Evacuation was ordered for residents from Beckwourth Genesee Road to Harrison Ranch Road, with an evacuation center is set up at Portola Baptist Church, 171 Gulling Street.

According to Mike Ferris, public information officer with the California Interagency Incident Management Team Number 4, the area under mandatory evacuation comprises about 50 homes and additional structures in a 12-mile area east of Beckwourth.

Ferris told The Mountain Messenger on Wednesday morning that firefighters had steered the Sugar Fire to the
northeast to prevent damage to property and that thus far no homes or structures have been lost.

“We want to keep this fire from spreading anymore and taking up further resources,” he said.

On Wednesday morning the totals for both fires of the Beckwourth Complex were 3,035 acres burned with 34%

This year promises to be a daunting and demanding fire season in California and throughout the West. A report issued on July 1 entitled “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook,” noted that more than 90% of the West is now in drought with more than half of the region in the “highest two categories of drought.”

The report stated that “above normal significant fire potential is expected across much of the mid and upper elevations” of Northern California, continuing through September. The report was published by the National
Interagency Fire Center, comprised of a consortium of
federal agencies.

An item on the CALFIRE website on the 2021 Fire Season Outlook states the following: “While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later
each year. Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend. Warmer spring and summer temperatures,
reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons that increase moisture stress on vegetation and make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire. The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras.”

Beckwourth Complex Fire Information is updated at the Incident Information website:
incident/7601/. You may also find updates and evacuation orders and advisories at the Plumas National Forest Facebook page:

Note: As The Mountain
Messenger went to press
on Wednesday afternoon, a
Mandatory Evacuation notice
for residents of Frenchman
Lake Cove was issued. Also,
an Advisory Evacuation
Order was then issued for
Frenchman Lake including all
campgrounds and residences
around the lake.

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