Sunday, October 2, 2022

CA fires: Mosquito Fire grows near Foresthill

The Mosquito Fire jumped the Middle Fork of the American River on Thursday, thrusting south into El Dorado County while continuing to burn near the Placer County community of Foresthill.

Evacuation orders have been in place since Wednesday morning for the Volcanoville area and Tunnel Hill areas of El Dorado County, and were expanded Thursday afternoon to include the Quintet, Bald Mountain, Gray Eagle Hill and Battle Hill areas.

An evacuation warning was issued just after 2:30 pm for all of Georgetown, a town of close to 3,000 people about 15 miles north of Placerville.

Crews were working shortly after 1:30 pm to de-energize power lines along Volcanoville Road after the fire became established on the El Dorado side of the river, according to radio dispatch traffic.

The fire has burned “several” structures in Volcanoville, according to dispatch audio shortly before 2:30 pm Firefighters were responding to spot fires on the south side of Volcanoville Road, radio traffic indicated.

Authorities are urging those in Vocanoville who have not yet done so to evacuate. Roughly 250 people live in Volcanoville and another 100 in Quintet.

“If you need extra time, consider leaving before an evacuation order is given,” the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post just after 1 pm

A temporary evacuation point reopened Thursday afternoon at Cool Community Church, 863 Cave Valley Road, Cool, after closing Wednesday evening, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said. Evacuees can gather at the center along with domestic animals, except for birds, due to the risk of spreading avian flu.

All of Foresthill, a town of 1,500 people, and nearby communities including Michigan Bluff have been under mandatory evacuation orders from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office since midday Wednesday.

Placer County declared a local emergency for the Mosquito Fire at 1:30 pm Thursday.

Aircraft mapped the Mosquito Fire as of 1:30 pm at 8,625 acres, or more than 13 square miles, up from 6,870 acres in a 7 am update from Cal Fire and the Forest Service. It is 0% contained.

The fire “is continuing to chunk west towards Foresthill, as well as burn actively to the northeast” in addition to spreading south across the river, Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer operations section chief Nolan Hale said in an afternoon video briefing.

The blaze grew by thousands of acres Wednesday, threatening homes and sending smoke billowing across large swaths of Northern California.

The Mosquito Fire is threatening just over 1,000 structures including critical infrastructure, Cal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit said. Infrastructure at risk included the Sugar Pine Dam, Placer County Water Agency’s pump station and dam, large power lines, the Ralston hydroelectric powerhouse and cellphone towers.

The wildfire, one of several major blazes burning amid a record-smashing September heat wave that has descended on drought-ridden California, is burning in critically dry brush and timber, fire officials said.

The blaze displayed “extreme” behavior all day Wednesday and more than quadrupled in size over the course of the day, fire authorities said in incident reports, after igniting Tuesday evening in steep terrain near the Oxbow Reservoir at Tahoe National Forest, quickly spreading northwest toward Forest Hill.

Foresthill, a town of roughly 1,500 people, was ordered by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate midday Wednesday, along with immediately surrounding communities in Placer County. Parts of Volcanoville in El Dorado County were also placed under mandatory evacuation orders.

An evacuation center remains open at Bell Road Baptist Church, 77 Bell Road, Auburn.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in a filing to state regulators Thursday morning said “electrical activity occurred close in time to the report time of the fire” on one of its transmission poles near Oxbow Reservoir.

“The (Forest Service) has placed caution tape around the base of a PG&E transmission pole (60Kv),” PG&E officials wrote in a filing to the California Public Utilities Commission. “Thus far, PG&E has observed no damage or abnormal conditions to the pole or our facilities near OxBow Reservoir, has not observed down conductor in the area or any vegetation related issues.”

The utility company, which has been ruled criminally responsible for sparking the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise and whose equipment was determined as the cause of last year’s nearly million-acre Dixie Fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills, wrote that it submitted Thursday’s filing “out of an abundance of caution,” as the electrical incident “involves an event that may meet the property damage reporting requirements.”

The Mosquito Fire’s cause remains under investigation by Cal Fire and the Forest Service.

Crews are “aware of structure damage in the Michigan Bluff area” near Foresthill, according to Cal Fire’s Thursday morning incident report, but the extent of damage was not immediately clear. Damage inspections have not been conducted due to unsafe conditions, Cal Fire said.

About 1,700 personnel are assigned to the fire, Cal Fire said.

The Mosquito Fire throughout most of Wednesday produced a pyrocumulus cloud — a towering smoke plume similar in appearance to a volcanic explosion. The plume could be seen from the Sacramento area, other neighboring Northern California counties and parts of western Nevada.

By Thursday morning, hazy skies settled over Sacramento as winds blew smoke into the region, but more pyrocumulus smoke emerged by early afternoon as the fire began its run into El Dorado County.

Air pollution was recorded at “hazardous” levels above AQI 200 as of 9 am in parts of Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento counties, including Folsom, El Dorado Hills, Granite Bay, Orangevale, El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park, according to an online air quality map from the Environmental Protection Agency. Pollution reached “very unhealthy” levels near Auburn, Newcastle and Penryn, and “unhealthy” levels near Roseville, Carmichael, Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova.

Air quality remained in the “moderate” level within Sacramento city limits, according to the map.

Heavy smoke was also expected to blow east toward Lake Tahoe, according to the National Weather Service.

Mosquito fire map

This live-updating map shows the location of the Mosquito Fire near Foresthill, with satellite heat detection data for hot spots. Click on the legend button for more information.

Sources: US Department of the Interior, IRWIN, NIFC, NASA, NOAA and Esri

The Forest Service on Wednesday evening announced that a large portion of Tahoe National Forest, including the French Meadows Reservoir and the popular Western States Trail, will be closed to the public through at least the end of 2022.

The closed trail is the site of the annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which starts in Olympic Valley and ends in Auburn. The race was run in June this year.

Barnes Fire in Modoc County

A blaze that sparked Wednesday in Modoc County, the Barnes Fire grew to 1,621 acres.

The Modoc County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation warnings for the communities of Willow Ranch and Fort Bidwell, which remained in place as of Thursday morning.

The fire grew minimally overnight but fire activity is expected to increase due to worsening fire weather conditions, Modoc National Forest officials said in a Thursday morning update.

Coyote Fire in Siskiyou County

A new vegetation fire sparked Wednesday in Siskiyou County, Cal Fire said, with forward progress stopped at just shy of 300 acres.

The Coyote Fire was burning along Coyote Ridge, about 10 miles southwest of the town of the city of Dorris, Cal Fire’s Siskiyou unit said Thursday morning.

All evacuation warnings have been lifted on the fire, which was reported at 297 acres with 20% containment.

Mill and Mountain fires in Siskiyou County

The Mill Fire, which killed two people and leveled dozens of homes in its initial explosive run last week near Weed, held at 3,935 acres as of Wednesday evening with 75% containment.

Crews have completed damage assessment and determined that 92 buildings were destroyed with 17 others damaged. Two women ages 73 and 66 died, authorities said, and three other civilians were injured.

Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for parts of the Lake Shastina community, where homes were damaged and destroyed. Evacuation orders within the city of Weed have been lifted or downgraded to warnings.

Roseburg Forest Products, which operates a mill in Weed, acknowledged Wednesday it was investigating whether a malfunctioning sprinkler system allowed smoldering ash from an on-site power plant to ignite the Mill Fire.

Cal Fire’s Siskiyou unit in a 7 am update Thursday said the Mountain Fire remains at 11,690 acres and is now 45% contained. Minimal fire activity was observed overnight, but tastes up to 25 mph are expected to continue Thursday. Two structures were destroyed, and about a dozen residents remained under evacuation orders.

Fairview Fire in Riverside County

The deadly Fairview Fire in Southern California grew intensely Wednesday, with Cal Fire reporting acreage soaring from 9,846 acres at 7 pm to 18,657 acres by 7 am Thursday.

The fire ignited Monday and is burning near Hemet, where mandatory evacuations remain in place. It was threatening about 2,500 structures as of Thursday morning.

Cal Fire said the fire remained active Wednesday on its eastern, southern and northern flanks.

Two civilians have died and another has been injured in the Fairview Fire.

Like Placer County’s Mosquito Fire, the Fairview Fire created a large pyrocumulus cloud Wednesday.

This story was originally published September 8, 2022 8:52 AM.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.

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