Windy Fire and KNP Complex See Containment Expand Thanks to Cooler Temperatures
Firefighters are starting to turn the tide in the battle against the Windy Fire, reaching 25% containment overnight. That’s up from just 2% on Tuesday and represents the first significant fire stop since the wildfire erupted earlier this month.
The Windy Fire burned nearly 90,000 acres across the Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Indian Reservation. Firefighters have now secured lines around a quarter of the 150-square-mile blaze, even as 2,000 homes remain at risk.
Talks are underway with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office to begin repopulating communities north of the blaze, including Camp Nelson, Chief of Operations Ernie Villa said in a morning briefing.
For now, Ponderosa, Quaking Aspen, Camp Nelson and the surrounding communities, Johnsondale, California Hot Springs and Pine Flat are all under evacuation order.
A community meeting will be webcast live on the Sequoia National Forest Facebook page at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The new containment is along the northern perimeter of the fire, from Two and Quarter Road on the Tule Preserve in Ponderosa, along part of Lloyd Meadow Road north of Johnsondale.
Gusts of wind tested the containment lines near Ponderosa and Johnsondale, firefighters said, but those lines held up and no fires were detected overnight. Winds are expected to subside in the coming days, even as temperatures warm and conditions dry up.
On Wednesday, teams will focus on the southwest region of the blaze, near California Hot Springs, Sugar Loaf and Pine Flat. Engines are stationed in these communities to protect homes and extinguish hot spots.
Scars from burns from the SQF 2020 complex and the 2016 pier fire are helping crews on the north and south sides of the blaze. The fire is actively growing to the southeast, near Tobias Peak, where crews drop retarders and envelop the historic Baker Point lookout.
In this region, the fire spread to the Kern River, where crews are building handlines and hoping to stop the growth of the fire.
There are nearly 2,400 firefighters assigned to the Windy Fire, which is under the command of the California Interagency Incident Management Team 5.
The Red Cross has established a temporary evacuation point for evacuees from the Windy Fire and KNP complex at Porterville College, 100 East College Avenue. Check-in takes place near the baseball stadiums.
Meanwhile, just north of Windy Fire, firefighters continued the battle against the burning KNP complex in Sequoia National Park and Forest.
Containment climbed to 11% in the weeks after the fire started in a thunderstorm on September 9. More than 1,800 firefighters from across the country are battling the 48,872-acre blaze that threatens the world’s largest redwood groves.
Crews laid a new type of fire-resistant gel on giant redwood wreaths in famed Muir Grove after fire entered the area over the weekend. Crews are happy with the outlook for the giant trees, operations section chief Clint Remington said in a briefing on Wednesday.
“It’s been a very few days,” he said. “As we had a clearer look, we had the opportunity to insert a little more direct people and use airplanes.”
The fire has entered other groves within the park boundaries, but it remains to be seen whether any giant sequoias have died. Scientists have not been able to assess the majority of the groves because the ground conditions are unstable.
Structural teams are reinforcing around Lodgepole and the giant forest, ready to put out spot fires and build emergency lines if the fire returns to the historic community.
Cooler temperatures and brush-type fuels helped firefighters build containment lines along the southern edge of the blaze at lower elevations. Crews expect to report additional containment tomorrow and the next few days, Remington said.
“It’s a very slow process. We don’t take containment lightly,” he said. “If we put black on the map, we want to make sure it’s really black and it’s a fully contained line of fire.”
Firefighters remain at Three Rivers and Ash Mountain, the headquarters of the national park, where crews are engaged in protecting structures and securing containment lines.
Mineral King Road also remains a bulwark for firefighters. Crews have prevented the flames from crossing the windy 25-mile road and are actively protecting the communities of Silver City and Cabin Cove.
Fire officials have said protecting communities remains the # 1 priority with giant sequoias and groves the # 2 priority.
Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Receive alerts and stay up to date on all things Tulare County for as little as $ 1 per month. Subscribe today.