By Stephen Kulieke
Quick action by firefighters helped keep two recent small fires—the Austin Fire and Boca Fire— from spreading further in the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) near Jackson Meadows and Boca Reservoir.
Sparked by lightning on July 30, the Austin Fire burned in “heavy dead and down slash with some single tree torching” one mile southwest of Jackson Meadows in USFS’ Sierraville Ranger District, just south of the Sierra County line in Nevada County.
According to a TNF Facebook posting, the Austin Fire was held to three-quarters of an acre by USFS firefighters on the ground, including those with TNF Sierraville Engine 361 and TNF Truckee Engine 371, supported by helicopter-bucket aerial resources. In the posting, TNF thanked the caller on Grouse Ridge who called 911 to report the fire and thanked the public for maintaining their distance from fire suppression equipment—also expressing gratitude that no personal drones were flown that would have halted aerial firefighting operations.
At 5:45 a.m. on August 1, Shelley Purser at the TNF Babbitt Peak Lookout spotted a smoke column in the Russell Valley area northwest of Boca Reservoir in the Truckee Ranger District in Nevada County and called it into TNF Dispatch. The early morning detection of the half-acre Boca Fire “allowed the engines crews and hotshots to rapidly complete a hose lay and handline” around the half-acre Boca Fire before winds and temperatures increased, noted the TNF Facebook posting.
“Highlighting these small fires [allows us] to give props to firefighters who are working really hard,” TNF Public Information Officer Adam Collins-Torruella told The Mountain Messenger. “And as we post about catching these fires while they’re still small, the community can get an idea of how we’re preventing larger [fire] incidents,” he added.
Unlike the Austin Fire, the Boca Fire was human-caused, the result of an “escaped, illegal campfire” in violation of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) restrictions currently in effect. Due to ongoing drought and warming conditions, Stage 1 fire restrictions were implemented July 20 throughout the Tahoe National Forest. Under the order, campfires and charcoal briquette fires are allowed only in established fire rings within USFS-designated campgrounds and day-use sites, but not outside of those areas. (Go to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe.)
Those whose illegal campfire outside of approved areas ignited the Boca Fire were cited for violating the order and are facing penalties of up to $5,000, six months imprisonment, or both, said TNF’s Collins-Torruella. The Messenger will be following the upcoming U.S. District Court case.
Despite serious and damaging fires in Mariposa and Siskiyou counties, California’s 2022 wildfire season thus far has not been as catastrophic as in recent years—although we are now entering the months of most extreme fire risk.
As of August 1, CAL FIRE and USFS have reported 4,927 fires destroying 147,034 acres. Last year at this time, 5,945 fires in the state had decimated 517,530 acres.
The impact already last year was reflected in The Mountain Messenger’s coverage of the state’s 2021 wildfire season. The Messenger’s July 29, 2021 issue reported on how the end of July saw “little relief” from wildfires—with Alpine County’s Tamarack Fire scorching nearly 69,000 acres with 59% containment and the Beckwourth Complex Fire more than 105,000 acres with 98% containment. The paper’s following week issue on August 5, 2021 reported on the devastating Dixie Fire in Plumas and Butte counties exceeding a quarter-million acres, on its way to becoming California’s largest single fire ever at nearly a million acres.
California’s largest fire of 2022 thus far—the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County—started on July 29 and as of August 3 has burned nearly 58,000 acres with zero containment. Four fatalities have been reported from the fire.
The state’s second largest fire this season, the Oak Fire, began July 22 in Mariposa County 30 miles west of Yosemite National Park and has burned more than 19,000 acres destroying nearly 200 structures. At press time, containment stood at 81%.
The other widely reported 2022 wildfire, the Washburn Fire that began on July 7 and burned nearly 5,000 acres threatening Yosemite National Park’s renowned Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, is 97% contained. On August 3, the Mariposa Grove was reopened to the public with none of the beloved trees lost to the fire.