Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Aug. 21, 2023 @ noon

Smith River Complex: Gasquet Evacuation Described as 'Orderly'; Holiday, Kelly Fires Merge; Pacific Power Delivers on Generators

Photo by Aaron Skroback via Inciweb

Emergency officials gave Gasquet residents about four hours to gather their belongings and evacuate on Sunday.

But, while the fire behaved the way analysts predicted, it didn’t get as close to the community as they thought it would.

“Instead of getting within a mile or a mile-and-a-half of the town, it got within 3 miles,” Tom Stokesberry, public information officer with California Interagency Management Team 15, told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday. “It acted the way we thought it would, but it kind of got hung up on one of the ridges and didn’t push as far as we thought, which is great news.”

Since Sunday, the Holiday and Kelly fires have merged. Officials have retired the Holiday Fire name and are calling the blaze the Kelly Fire, Stokesberry said. The Kelly Fire was last mapped at roughly 18,750 acres, he said. The entire Smith River Complex was mapped using infrared imaging Sunday at 33,355 acres, Stokesberry said.

Melodee Mitchell evacuated from her Gasquet home with her daughter and cat and are staying at a house her employer owns in Crescent City. Her other daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren have evacuated to Rock Creek Ranch, though they are preparing for a possible evacuation from there.

For Mitchell, who has had to evacuate from her home twice before, having a few days of preparing helped. She said her community had been at a Level 2 "Be Set" notice for a few days, which gave her time to look up her home's insurance policy, secure important documents and check on her neighbors.

"We're a very tight community up there and my neighbors who live next door are elderly," she said. "We were able to go over there and say OK, start preparing, and what can I do to help you? It was very orderly."

When the Level 3 "Go Now" evacuation notice came Sunday, Mitchell said while she was sad to leave her home, the process itself wasn't scary or chaotic.

Mitchell compared this evacuation process with having to leave her home during the Slater Fire about three years ago.

"When we were all evacuated there was a lot of looting and theft that happened in the Gasquet community and we were unable to do anything about it," she told the Outpost. "This evacuation, not only was it orderly, but it also gave us peace of mind and comfort. There is so much patrolling, whether it's CERT, the sheriff's department — there were even police from the Mendocino-Santa Rosa area up there."

Due to the fires, Del Norte County declared a State of Emergency on Friday, County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez said. The Board of Supervisors is expected to ratify that declaration on Tuesday.

“We followed that up with a request to the director of the California Office of Emergency Services requesting he ask the governor to proclaim an emergency,” Lopez said. “That was just sent yesterday at the direction of the CalOES rep here at the EOC.”

The Crescent City Council is expected to declare an emergency at its meeting this evening.

On the local education front, College of the Redwoods canceled in-person classes at its Del Norte campus on Monday. Online classes will proceed as scheduled, according to the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services.

Del Norte Unified School District has postponed its first-day-of-school to Sept. 5. For more information, click here.

The Del Norte Office of Emergency Services hotline is (707) 954-3704 or (707) 464-0911. Sign up for community alerts by clicking here.

In Gasquet, Crews are working on structure protection and are endeavoring to keep the fire away from the town,  Stokesberry said. A predicted lull in the weather during the next few days may moderate the blaze, giving firefighters a chance to get out ahead. However, a heat trend is expected to return, he said.

Stokesberry said the interagency management team is “fully engaged in that fight.” This includes protecting the Camp Six repeater site, he said.

The Holiday and Kelly fires have merged as of Sunday. Fire officials are calling the blaze the Kelly Fire. | Image courtesy of Del Norte County Search & Rescue

“A couple nights ago when the fire pushed into there really heavily, we had an active firefight going on there,” he said. “Firefighters and crews had to retreat and were able to take refuge by the Camp Six repeater site. It did take some heat, but it’s still fully operational. Thank goodness, they were able to take refuge there and there were no injuries by the firefighters.”

The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation order to Gasquet residents at about 4 p.m. This was to ensure an orderly exodus out of the community, Del Norte Office of Emergency Services Public Information Officer Bill Steven told the Outpost. Residents were even given an opportunity to make more than one trip to their home, even though the highway was closed at Slant Bridge.

Residents were given until 8 p.m. Sunday to evacuate before officials closed the road entirely, Steven said.

According to Steven, Sheriff Garrett Scott heard that the U.S. Forest Service was predicting 35 mph winds moving toward Gasquet, so decided not to wait until the last minute before telling residents to leave.

For those who didn’t have vehicles, Del Norte Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris stationed buses at Gasquet Market, Steven said. They let folks know via KPOD and KCRE that rides to the fairgrounds were available, he said.

Meanwhile, the bottles of water State Sen. Mike McGuire promised Del Norte at a community meeting on Saturday appear to have been delivered. Steven said he heard Sunday that “quite a few” pallets of water showed up at various locations and was being distributed.

Pacific Power has also supplied Del Norte County with “huge generators, some of them the size of a car,” and have plugged them into the grid, Steven said.

“There are great swaths of Crescent City that are energized right now,” he said. “That’s important because right now a lot of businesses are running. But a lot can’t operate their software, so they’re cash only. Some ATMs are now up.”

Despite this, Pacific Power warned Del Norte County customers that the utility doesn’t have a timeline for restoring the community’s electricity at this point. They warn that customers should continue to prepare for multiple days without power.

The utility brought a large commercial generator to Del Norte County and are deploying residential generators for Medical Baseline Program customers.

Community resource centers have been set up at Del Norte High School and at the Yurok Tribal Office in Klamath from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. People can charge their electronics, receive information, water and ice and have access to WiFi, air conditioning and snacks.

Those two resource centers are for the community at large who are being impacted due to the countywide power outage, said Mary Dorman, community volunteer leader for the local American Red Cross chapter. Showers are also available at the Fred Endert Municipal Pool from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., though people need to bring their own towels and toiletries.

For those evacuated from their homes, there’s shelter at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

Dorman has been at the fairgrounds since evacuation notices were first issued last week. There are seven Del Norte County volunteers helping out and three from Humboldt County. The Red Cross has also flown in teams from New Hampshire and New York to assist at the fairgrounds, she said.

“All are welcome if they’re affected by the fire and would like to stay with us,” Dorman said. “We have cots available with blankets and comfort kits. We have three meals a day and showers are available. We have a Red Cross nurse in case anything comes up.”

Some folks are staying in the shelter itself, while others have brought their RVs and travel trailers, Dorman said. Some have put up tents and are staying on the fairgrounds property. All are registered with the Red Cross, she said.

“We are here as long as the community needs us,” Dorman said. “We’re requested to respond by the county — that’s how it works. And then we have volunteers that help the community if we have somebody that needs longer-term help. We have volunteers that work with them on their recovery plan.”

For folks who want to help, the Red Cross is accepting donations. Dorman noted that the organization had to spend money to fly volunteers to Del Norte and put them up in a hotel.

“The other thing is to plan ahead and consider volunteering with us for when something like this happens again,” she said.


© 2024 Lost Coast Communications Contact: