Wind conditions have fanned out smoke from the Lick Fire today,
temporarily grounding aircraft working to fight the blaze, according to
a Cal Fire official.
It is unclear how long the hazy skies will keep air tankers and
helicopters, key to fighting the wildfire in the rugged terrain of
Henry W. Coe State Park, out of commission. A shift in wind direction
could allow them to return to the skies at any time, said Cal Fire
spokesman Frank Kemper.
Fire crews had their worst night yet battling the four-day old blaze at Henry W. Coe State Park.
Overnight, winds and extremely dry fuel pushed the fire across lines
where officials had hoped to stop it. The fire jumped across a fireline
to the northeast, officials said, but continued to move away from
"It went where we didn't want it to go," Cal Fire spokesman Jim Pope said early this morning.
The blaze, which is 25 percent contained, has burned 18,905 acres. Cal
Fire officials have said they expect the fire to burn 30,000 acres
before it is completely contained.
Fire crews will focus their efforts today to the east and south
portions of the blaze, as well as continuing their work to the north.
The approximately 850 firefighters heading out to Henry Coe State Park
this morning found that cooler coastal winds had calmed the blaze,
which had raged overnight, Pope said. He said that embers caught grass
away from the blaze, causing the fire to jump its northeastern line.
fire continues to burn eastward, it could travel further into dense wilderness and become even more difficult to fight.
There are a total of 1,709 firefighters working the blaze. Some were
briefed this morning at 6 a.m. With dry conditions overnight,
firefighters will have a drier, harder morning that normal, Cal Fire
spokesman Frank Kemper said. Previously, moist air at night had put a
damper on the blaze, but not so Wednesday night. Forecasters, however,
are predicting a cool, wet seasonal wind moving in later from the
With several other wildfires burning throughout the state, including a
larger blaze in Plumas County, Pope said that it took a few days to get
all the personnel officials had requested to work the Lick fire.
"They have to prioritize where they send resources," Pope said. "We
might not have gotten everything we had asked for. But right now, we
are at the place we wanted to be with staffing."
Four firefighters have been injured since the blaze first started
Monday, Pope said. None were injured Wednesday. However, a Cal Fire
helicopter rescued citizens involved in a car crash near the blaze. The
extent of their injuries is unknown.
Authorities said Wednesday that the Lick Fire was
by careless behavior at a private hunting camp near a spot called Booze
Lake, just outside the state park boundary. They said someone was
burning something in a barrel and the flames got out of control.
Officials did not identify the person, but said he or she may be liable
for the costs of fighting the blaze - $1.8 million on Wednesday and
From their Gilroy staging area, many crews drove for almost
three hours on Wednesday before reaching the steep ridgelines and
narrow valleys where the 14,000-acre blaze continued to burn.
"It's hot. It's dusty. It's dry. It's dangerous," McCaslin said. His
crew had worked for about 36 hours and slept for a little less than an
In addition to the heat - today's forecast calls for temperatures in
the low 90s - firefighters are facing extremely rough terrain. Coe is
one of the biggest parks in the state system and is notorious among
hikers for its steep hills and rugged trails.
Fire engines have to reverse and turn and inch forward and turn just to
make it through narrow bends. The single road into the area is covered
in about six inches of dust, which kicks up on the trucks in the back
of a convoy, clogging air filters and engines.
Once inside the park, firefighters said there were few roads leading to
the areas of the blaze itself. Firefighters were forced to set up
equipment on the few trails that are large enough to allow them to do
"We are fighting a fire in extremely tight quarters," said Wayne Connor
of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also
known as Cal Fire.
Because crews had trouble reaching the blaze on the ground, state fire officials summoned a number of aircraft. The state's only firefighting DC-10, eight tankers and eight helicopters are working the blaze.
On the ground, fire officials were looking for roads or ridgelines they
could clear to create a fire break, and then setting backfires aimed at
burning toward the main blaze.
The hope is that the backfires will clear more vegetation and deprive
the main blaze of fuel before it hits the fire break, said Cal Fire
spokesman Dick Rawson.
Connor said the blaze was considered an immediate threat to 10 hunting cabins, two park ranger homes and 13 other residences.
With the fire burning in a remote and mostly undeveloped area,
officials had the luxury of concentrating on controlling the blaze,
rather than diverting firefighters and equipment to protect large
numbers of homes.
But Rawson said they would not let the fire burn unattended, because of
the constant danger that winds could shift and move the blaze toward
That's why authorities spent more than two months and $118 million
fighting the so-called Zaca fire as it burned through 240,000 acres of
equally remote and mountainous territory in the Los Padres National
Forest this summer. Though the fire destroyed only one building,
officials said the threat to residential communities in Santa Barbara
and Ventura counties was always on their minds.
"A fire can very quickly come out of those wilderness areas and into an
urban interface within a matter of hours," said spokeswoman Kathy Good
of the U.S. Forest Service, the lead agency on the Zaca fire.
Authorities on the Lick Fire said they were aided by a series of
prescribed burns that were conducted inside Coe Park in recent decades.
Since the early 1980s, the state parks department had burned about
5,000 acres in a series of small, controlled fires designed to clear
away dead growth and replicate the effects of natural fires, said
George Gray, a senior ecologist for the parks department.
Most of those burns were in the western side of the park, and Gray said
the current fire seemed to slow down whenever it approached those
areas. He said the former owners of the park, which used to be a
private ranch, conducted earlier controlled burns some 50 years ago in
areas to the east, where the fire is now concentrated.
Some of those areas were scheduled for a new round of prescribed burns in the next few years, he said.
Mercury News staff writers Barry Witt and Sandra Gonzales contributed to this report. Contact Leslie Griffy at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5945.