Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023 @ 12:15 p.m.

County Supervisors Call For Better Communication From Pac Power During Fire Emergency; U.S. 199 Could Reopen To Controlled Traffic Next Week, Chris Howard Says

Photo courtesy of Bill Steven

Five days after Pacific Power de-energized the only transmission line serving Del Norte County due to the Smith River Complex fires, county supervisors called on Pacific Power to “get out in front of the public.”

During the public comment period at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Sam Strait pointed out that there’s another utility in Brookings, the Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, and asked why residents couldn’t access that electricity.

“Instead we’re going to sit in the dark for the next foreseeable future,” Strait told supervisors.

District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey said she hoped a Pacific Power representative would be at a community meeting focusing on the fires that’s scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds. The meeting will be streamed on the Six Rivers National Forest Facebook page.

Starkey and her colleagues ratified a county emergency declaration their County Administrative Officer, Neal Lopez, issued Friday.

According to Lopez, the county’s declaration is necessary for the California governor to declare a state of emergency. However, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said he spoke with State Sen. Mike McGuire about putting political pressure on the governor’s office to get the state-level emergency declaration put in place.

“He triggered one before the hurricane even arrived in Southern California,” Howard said, referring to Hurricane Hillary. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when this thing’s been lying on our doorstep.”

The Crescent City Council on Monday also approved a local emergency declaration.

The Smith River Complex is currently mapped at about 45,000 acres, Tom Stokesberry, public information officer for California Interagency Team 15, told supervisors. He said it gained about 15,000 over the last roughly 24 hours. Much of the activity is in the Stony Creek drainage area and on French Hill pushing down to Del Norte County Road 411, Stokesberry said.

“It does look like the Kelly Fire will merge with the Hurdy Gurdy and Coon (fires),” he said. “We’re up to 1,200 firefighters that are now here and on this fire, so all the resources we can get are being brought to bear. This is the No. 1 priority fire in the nation.”

Crews are focusing on structure protection at all threatened communities, Gasquet in particular. Stokesberry said they hope to allow residents to return to their homes in Gasquet, but lifting those evacuation orders is up to the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office.

Other critical structures include U.S. 199 and Pacific Power’s transmission line, Stokesberry said.

“We’re working hard to get that area secure so Pacific Power can get crews in there and examine them to see if there is damage to the lines and get those things re-energized,” he said. “That is our top priority.”

Due to a change in the weather — Stokesberry said he could see the mountains around Gasquet on Tuesday morning — they’ll “be able to get a lot of air up.”

“We do have a warming trend coming back in the next few days, we’ll take advantage today and hit it hard,” he said. “Full suppression strategy.”

Relaying further information from Stokesberry, Howard said Caltrans has begun the process of reopening U.S. 199.

“This is directly from the CHP, they’ll begin controlled traffic on 199 with two openings per day, one in the morning and one in the evening starting Monday next week,” Howard said.

In a news release issued at 9:02 a.m. Tuesday, Pacific Power is continuing to tell Crescent City and Del Norte County customers to prepare for multiple days without power. However, the utility brought enough generators into the county to provide electricity to roughly 4,000 customers in the area.

Pacific Power has set up two community resource centers open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. at Del Norte High School and at the Yurok Tribal Offices in Klamath. People can charge their devices, receive information, water snacks, WiFi, air conditioning and security.

However, Starkey said, many residents are still confused and “want to hear from the source.”

“I think just the direct updates to the public about where their grids are and what we can expect,” she said. “I understand promises can’t be made, but really that communication is something that is vital.”

In response to Strait’s comment, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said Tri Agency Economic Development Authority members, Harbor Commissioners Brian Stone and Wes White, were exploring potential connectivity opportunities with Coos Curry Electric. They have worked with Pacific Power to look at a potential hookup, which used to exist, Howard said.

“Unfortunately the lines that exist now are not of the right size in order to reconnect to the system,” Howard said. “A new power line run from Brookings-Harbor to the substation in Fort Dick is needed for that to happen.”

Howard said he and his colleagues need to work with Pacific Power to look at regaining the redundancy Del Norte County had when it comes to electricity before Brookings joined the Coos-Curry Cooperative.

As of Tuesday morning, all communities on U.S. 199 from Slant Bridge Road to teh Oregon border are under a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation order. This includes Gasquet, French Hill Road, the Panther Flat Campground, Pioneer Road, Washington Flat, Coon Creek, Copper Creek Drainage, Little Jones Creek and Patrick Creek.

High Divide, Rowdy Creek, Big lat and Rock Creek are at a Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation notice.

Low Divide and Hiouchi between Slant Bridge and North Bank Road are at a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation notice.

On Tuesday, Lopez said South Fork Road is closed to non-residents. Those who can show proof of residency can access their homes at this time, he said.

Meanwhile the Del Norte County Sheriff’s dispatch is working on backup power. People are asked to call 911 for emergencies only. 

Showers are continuing to be offered at the Fred Endert Municipal Pool from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. People should bring their own towels and toiletries.

KCRE and KPOD will have live updates at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.


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