By Stephen Kulieke
In an early season reminder of the risk posed by trees hitting power lines, a small underbrush fire at Fournier Ranch on Monday afternoon was quickly spotted, called in, and brought under control through local community action.
Sierra County Deputy Director for Public Works Brian Davey was one of three individuals in the vicinity who saw smoke and radioed or called dispatch to report the fire; another was BJ Myers of Caltrans. “It was very fortuitous” that they rapidly contacted us, said Liz Fisher, a dispatcher with the Downieville Volunteer Fire Department (DVFD).
Davey was driving from Downieville to Sierra City on Highway 49 when he spotted the smoke plume in the Fournier Ranch area. He doubted it was a controlled burn on such a windy day—the U.S. Weather Service had warned of 35 mph gusts—and went to investigate. As it turned out, his quick actions as the first one on the scene at 4:27 p.m. kept the fire from getting worse.
“The fire was a pretty good size, [about] a quarter acre with flames on the entire rim,” said Davey, who also is a volunteer fireman with the Sierra City Volunteer Fire Department (VFD). He stamped at the flames burning through the “duff” (decaying pine needles, leaves, and branches) and then found a shovel and McLeod rake at the nearest house and began digging a perimeter line.
That house 100 yards away from the fire is owned by Sierra County District Attorney Sandy Groven and her husband Rich Smail, both volunteers themselves with the Sierra City VFD. “By the time I made it home, Sierra City and Downieville fire personnel were on scene and had a perimeter around the fire, and it was mostly smoldering with a few hot spots,” Groven told The Mountain Messenger. Groven’s house is eight miles from Downieville and four miles from Sierra City.
Groven thanked all the responders from the Sierra City and Downieville VFDs and the U.S. Forest Service “who did a fantastic job.” She gave a “special shout out” to Bryan Davey.
PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland told The Messenger that the fire was caused when gusty winds blew off the 30-foot top of a ponderosa pine that became entangled in power lines, igniting the underbrush.
In addition to Bryan Davey, arriving on scene and helping to bring the fire under control from the Sierra City VFD were Assistant Fire Chief Jenny Traverso and Steve Traverso, Sarah and Eric Kubly, Aaron Stringer, and Chuck Holman.
“The fire was hampered by wet fuel so we created a line around the burn area, removing fuel material from the burned and burning area with shovels and McLeods and snuffed out the hot spots,” Sarah Kubly told The Messenger.
Downieville VFD personnel also fought the fire and staged vehicles on Highway 49 to help as needed. The Downieville responders were Steve and Jessie Folsom, Leslie Baker, Dean Fischer, Dan McNamara, and Austin Oliver.
Arriving then to perform mop-up operations at the Fournier Ranch fire site was a crew from the USFS Yuba River Ranger Station in Camptonville.
Reflecting on the incident, Davey said, “We’re lucky we got there when we did. The only reason we had a chance is that the fuels aren’t totally dry. It would have been catastrophic if it had happened in September or October,” he noted.
According to Davey, on Monday afternoon the county removed a tree from the road on Brady Drive in Sierra City’s Lewis Tract that also entangled electrical lines.
A power outage beginning late Monday afternoon impacted 604 local PG&E customers, according to the utility. Davey said that those without power covered a region from Bell Street in Downieville to Sierra City.
It’s uncertain whether the power outage resulted from the fire in Fournier Ranch, the downed tree in Sierra City, or a combination of the two.
Some customers had their power restored that evening with all back online by noon on Tuesday, said PG&E.