Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 @ 12:38 p.m. / Emergencies, Fire

DNSO Relaxes Evacuation Order for Low Divide Road Residents; Smith River Complex 6 Percent Contained

The scene in Gasquet on Monday morning | Photo courtesy of Caltrans-District 1

Firefighters were able to contain the Corral Fire in the northwest corner of the Smith River complex. | Map courtesy of the Six Rivers National Forest

Firefighters appear to have gained the upper hand on the Corral Fire and are making progress on the Diamond Fire in the northwest corner of the Smith River Complex as of Monday.

As a result, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office allowed Low Divide Road residents to return to their homes on Sunday. However, they will continue to see fire personnel around their properties to reinforce the work they’ve already done, said Tom Engberg, public information officer for California Interagency Incident Management Team 15.

“We felt safe sending citizens back to their residences,” Engberg told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday. “That’s not to say we’re done working in and around the Low Divide area. They’ll still see firefighters up there. We ask people to be courteous and would like to let them know that fire crews are walking around their property reinforcing the prep work that’s been done.”

According to Bill Steven, public information officer for the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services, the evacuation order in Low Divide allowed about 20 residents to return home.

Though electricity is restored to most of Del Norte County, Gasquet residents and those living along the U.S. 199 corridor, including the communities of French Hill Road and Sunstar are unable to return to their homes.

According to Steven, there is a meeting for those residents at 4 p.m. today in the Board of Supervisors chambers in Crescent City to hear from U.S. Forest Service personnel.

An “actual Forest Service briefing” will be held at 6 p.m. today at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Steven said. Everyone is welcome at that meeting.

“When the fire came and it took out 199 and power to the whole county, everybody in Del Norte County was affected at that point,” he said. “We have the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services supported by the city and county. Multiple agencies were trying to solve other problems for everybody. But since the power came back on, that really fixed a lot of stuff.”

During the power outage last week, Steven spoke on KCRE and KPOD three times a day. As of Monday, Steven said he’ll be broadcasting fire updates at 8 a.m. until further notice.

The Smith River Complex has grown to 70,716 acres and is 6 percent contained as of Monday, according to a Six Rivers National Forest Service news release.

In Oregon, residents on U.S. 199 south of O’Brien are under evacuation notices. Those living in the O’Brien and Takilma areas north of milepost marker 38 on U.S. 199 are at a Level 2 “Get Set” and those living north to Cave Junction are under a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation notice.

An American Red Cross shelter has been set up at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass.

The highway continues to be closed. Because of the fire in Oregon, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans had to scrap plans to caravan traffic through the U.S. 199 corridor starting Monday.

They have rescheduled that plan to Wednesday, though that is still subject to change due to the unpredictable nature of the Smith River Complex. Other than the delay, the plan is still for Caltrans to escort traffic through the area going north and south at 7 a.m. and again at 5 p.m., with a CHP patrol car bringing up the rear ensuring the highway is closed behind them.

According to Engberg, the Kelly Fire is still active around Pacific Power’s transmission line, though the weather gave firefighters a chance to get the upper hand. The inversion cleared enough in Gasquet on Sunday allowing aircraft to drop retardant on the fire twice. Engberg said fire officials are hoping for a chance at another “airshow” on Monday.

But most of the work is being done by hand, he said.

“It’s treacherous country up there so we’re working with dozers too, trying to tie all that line together,” Engberg told the Outpost. “Once we feel comfortable that the lines are secure and wide enough, we’ll start putting black on the map.”

Meanwhile, though Del Norte County and Crescent City both declared emergencies due to the fire, especially the power outage, Governor Gavin Newsom hasn’t followed suit, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors chairman Darrin Short said Monday. Short, a long-time volunteer with Crescent City Fire & Rescue, communicated with the Outpost via Facebook saying he was “on the fire right now.”

“I don’t know what the hold up is,” Short told the Outpost. “The LA area got a (State of Emergency) declared before Hurricane Hillary even showed up, so it’s very puzzling.”


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