With 95 percent containment of the 615-acre Kyburz fire as of Thursday morning, mop-up operations began in earnest.
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The main concern Wednesday morning was the fire going into the area of the 2004 Freds Fire, which had in turn gone into area burned by the 1992 Cleveland Fire, said Michelle Puckett of the Bureau of Land Management. Puckett, based out of state, was brought in Tuesday as outside help after the fire was upgraded from Type 3 to Type 2.
The trees affected by the 7,700-acre Freds Fire posed a danger to firefighters, as they were already weakened and could fall down, Puckett said. Snags, or dead trees that are still standing, were mostly in clumps.
Laura Hierholzer of the U.S. Forest Service, who wrote the analysis of the trees affected by the Freds Fire, noted that the area looked better than she thought it would. There were still green areas where the current fire had swept through so quickly it didn’t burn all the fuel.
The burn depends on different types of fuels, Hierholzer said. In this case, “flashy fuels” burn really fast but leave green areas. “It’s a very good thing. Topography also affects it,” she said, noting that the steeper area make for a quicker burn as the fire moved uphill.
The focus Wednesday, the two said, would be on reducing fuels to make sure there were no additional flare-ups. Five-gallon backpacks would be used to spray water onto dirt and mix it into mud, which would be spread around the fuels, making it harder to catch on fire. It’s better than dirt in that it takes more water to cool something down than mud does to make it less flammable. Meanwhile, breaking logs and creating firebreaks would help reduce the fuel load.
Fuel breaks tie in nicely with the idea of defensible space, Puckett said, in that the area is considered a WUI – a wildland urban interface. As there are some residents in the area, they should use the same technique, should a wildland fire spread.
Residents might also notice stacks of lumber piled around, taken from the forest to prevent fire using the trees as fuel. These will be burned at a later date, when it is not fire season, Puckett said, as part of a prescribed burn. Larger, densely spaced trees make excellent fuel, she said, as the fire can climb and the embers could float over fuel breaks. Fuel breaks themselves are “essential,” she said, whether small ones by hand crews or large ones by bulldozers.
Another major factor affecting the fire was weather. The wind was moving northward, pushing the fire. Though a “weak system” of weather was expected Wednesday, and they were “not expecting roaring winds,” hot spots and embers could still pop up, Puckett said. This would bring the fire forward and reduce containment.
With the mop-up, which included cutting down dead trees — a large one fell and broke apart after a chainsaw was taken to it — rolling debris was a concern for the firefighters. This could include rocks, burning pinecones and logs. These could not only hurt firefighters, but could roll downhill and start the fire in a new area.
Crews from outside the area including Plumas County and Klamath County in Oregon and from “all over” were shipping in after the type change for a “structure rotation” and to assist local units, who would be partially relieved to focus on other incidents locally.
“It’s mostly just mop-up,” Puckett reiterated. Though there is very little activity, with mostly smoke and very little actual flames to be found, containment remained at 80 percent on Wednesday as crews worked to make fuel breaks larger.