Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 @ 10:40 a.m. / Fire
Smith River Complex Sparks More Evacuations; No Estimated Time For Reopening U.S. 199, Caltrans Says
Residents living in several areas of the Smith River canyon were ordered to evacuate due on Wednesday and Thursday to a complex of wildfires, one of which is damaging U.S. 199 near Patrick Creek Road.
The Washington Flat area is the latest to be under a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation order, Del Norte Office of Emergency Services Public Information Officer Bill Steven told the Wild Rivers Outpost at about 9:45 a.m. Thursday. This includes the area near South Forks Road and the former Bar-O-Boys Ranch.
“Things moved quite a bit during the night,” Steven said. “All the fires grew quite a bit during the night and they continue to grow.”
Steven said if residents don’t have friends or family to be with in Gasquet, which is under a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation warning, or Hiouchi, they should head to the Del Norte County Fairgrounds in Crescent City. The local chapter of the American Red Cross has opened a shelter there, Steven said.
Other areas under a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation order include Little Jones Creek, the Copper Creek Drainage and Coon Creek.
High Divide, Rowdy Creek and Pioneer and Panther Flat residents are under a Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation order. And in addition to Gasquet, French Hill, Big Flat, Rock Creek and Low Divide are at a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation warning.
Residents should sign up for alerts via Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services’s Community Alert System.
Sparked by lightning, the Smith River Complex consists of about 13 fires that have been mapped at a total of approximately 4,000 acres as of Thursday, according to Six Rivers National Forest Fire Public Affairs Specialist Adrianne Rubiaco. The largest of these is the Holiday Fire that’s currently mapped at 1,800 acres north of Patrick Creek near the Oregon state line.
The Kelly Fire, at 1,100 acres, prompted Caltrans to close U.S. 199 between Pioneer Road and Oregon Mountain Road. A hard closure is also in effect for the road at the agricultural station near the Oregon border, according to a news release.
The Diamond and Prescott fires are under 500 acres each, Rubiaco said. The Prescott Fire looks to be burning within the Siskiyou Wilderness, according to a Six Rivers National Forest map.
Steven ventured up U.S. 199 to Patrick Creek Lodge twice Wednesday afternoon. As of about 6 p.m. Wednesday, Steven said, the Kelly Fire had wrapped around the hill behind the lodge and crossed the highway at the beginning of an area locals call the narrows.
Steven said it continued on the other side of the Smith River opposite Patrick Creek Lodge.
“It came down across the highway, went up the ridge and just kept going,” he said. “Patrick Creek was surrounded on three sides when I left last night.”
Steven said motorists shouldn’t expect U.S. 199 to reopen anytime soon.
“Nobody wants to give an estimate, but it’s going to be at least a week or better I’m guessing,” he said. “There are just rocks and trees and debris down on the highway. And it’s near vertical, there is more unstable stuff on the hill that hasn’t fallen. It’s just a mess.”
A closure on U.S. 199 impacts Brookings as well as Crescent City and Del Norte County, City Councilman Andy Martin said via Facebook. He pointed out that it’s the main route between the Rogue Valley, Interstate 5 and the coast. Alternative routes include State Route 299 via Humboldt County, Martin said, or Oregon State Route 42 via Coquille and Douglas County.
“The manager of Fred Meyer told me this morning that most of the goods delivered to the Brookings store are on a north-to-south route on Highway 101,” Martin said. “But many vendors are based in the Rogue Valley, including some beverage and bread suppliers. Workers were busy stocking shelves this morning with fresh produce, dairy, beverages and canned and boxed items. Fuel deliveries have not been interrupted.”
The California Incident Management Team will take over incident command for the Smith River Complex fires at about 1 p.m. Thursday, Rubiaco said.
As of about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, there were 26 fires reported across the Six Rivers National Forest, she said, adding that there were roughly three more fire starts due to lightning.
Rubiaco urged people to sign up for Del Norte’s Community Alert System, saying that’s a better source of information regarding evacuations than social media. For official information on the fires themselves, they should monitor the Six Rivers National Forest Facebook page, she said.