Encouraging Signs in Devastating Sugar Fire, California’s Largest of 2021 to Date

By Stephen Kulieke

After a week that saw the surging Sugar Fire emerge as the largest of California’s 2021 still-early wildfire
season, crews are making progress on the Plumas County conflagration with containment increasing from
46% on July 13 to 71 % on July 14.

“The weather outlook is favorable with a trend toward cooling and possibly higher humidity,” said Mike
Ferris, public information officer with the California Interagency Incident Management Team Number 4. “A break in the weather would really give us a chance to get final containment lines on the fire and get it secured.” He said that lines were in place from “Maddalena to Scott Road all the way around almost to Doyle.”

Ferris spoke to The Mountain Messenger on Wednesday by phone from an evacuation center in Lassen County. The town of Doyle in the county was hit particularly hard by the fire this past weekend when flames jumped Highway 395, destroying a number of homes there.

Thus far, officials have not released figures on the number of homes and other structures destroyed by the Sugar Fire. Ferris said the Sheriff Departments of Plumas and Lassen Counties are putting together damage assessment teams and will work in coordination with the California Office of Emergency Services to survey and report on property damage from the fire in their respective counties.

The U.S. Forest Service has yet to assess damage to its facilities at Frenchman Lake. “We still have a fire to fight. Public and firefighter safety remains our biggest priority,” Ferris said. He noted that most of the direct attacks
on the fire are being done at night when conditions are more favorable.

Igniting on July 2, the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, has scorched 94,764 acres or nearly 150
square miles as of July 14. The most recent update from the Plumas National Forest USFS on Wednesday
reported a total of 2,512 personnel fighting the fire—working on 56 day and night crews and operating 194
engines, 17 helicopters, 48 bulldozers, 58 water tenders, and 2 masticators.

Evacuation warnings continue to be in effect for communities around the fire’s enormous footprint. A mandatory evacuation is in place for Dixie Valley to the northwest, due to rugged terrain and the threat of flareup. And mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for Frenchman Lake, Doyle Grade, and Sugarloaf Road.

There also is a Plumas National Forest closure order in effect surrounding the fire’s perimeter, which includes
several roads. Highway 395 is now open.

The Sugar Fire exploded in size last Friday when “heat, low humidity, and wind all lined up” to produce
a “dramatic, severe, and erratic” event, said Ferris. Friday saw particularly frightening conditions
when the intensity of flames formed a towering pyrocumulonimbus “fire cloud” that created its own
weather. The National Weather Service in Reno on Friday afternoon reported lightning strikes from the
cloud “along the east side of the Beckwourth Complex.”

The daily morning updates from Plumas National Forest officials underscore how rapidly the fire grew after

Thursday, July 8: 11,799 acres, 20% containment

Friday, July 9: 23,855 acres, 11% containment

Saturday, July 10: 54,421 acres, 8% containment

Sunday, July 11: 83,256 acres, 8% containment

The news is good for the other fire being administered by Beckwourth Complex officials. As of July 14, the Dotta Fire footprint remains constant at 594 acres with containment at 99%.

Beckwourth Complex Fire video updates are provided twice daily in the morning and evening at the Plumas National Forest Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/USFSPlumas

At the July 13 evening video briefing, Beckwourth Complex Fire Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle emphasized that “your fire crews are out there working hard for you. I know there are a lot of rumors out there that we’re just managing it and letting the fire burn. That is not the case. We want to put this fire out and go home.” Officials also held their fourth virtual community meeting streaming at the Facebook page on the evening of July 14.

NOTE: As The Mountain
Messenger went to press
representatives of the
19-agency Beckwourth
Complex Fire team speaking
at last evening’s virtual
community meeting reported
that Wednesday afternoon,
July 14, saw increased fire
activity with 50 mph wind
gusts creating fire whirls
and grounding firefighting

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