Tamarack Fire considered low priority among other lightning-caused blazes
Special to the Sierra Sun
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Bigger fires from multiple lightning strikes in the Mokelumne Wilderness were a higher priority and led to the decision to not immediately attack and extinguish the Tamarack Fire that began on July 4, officials said on Tuesday.
Officials said the Tamarack Fire was one of 23 reported on land in the Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest and when it first started, it was a single tree burning on a rocky ridge with sparse fuels and natural barriers to contain it.
The forest service said it monitored the blaze everyday after it began and was still only at .25 acres six days later on July 10, according to service updates. But six days later the blaze exploded due to “extreme” winds and low humidity and raced down a slope and spread fast overnight, the service told the Tribune.
The blaze is now at about 40,000 acres and 0% contained.
“The fire exhibited minimal fire behavior until Friday, July 16, when fueled by extreme winds and low humidity, it progressed rapidly down slope and spread throughout the evening,” said Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Public Affairs Staff Officer Erica Hupp in an email. “The steep, rugged, and remote terrain presented challenges to safely suppress this wilderness fire. Out of the numerous lightning fire starts on the forest, seven resulted in larger fires. Fire resources were limited and were assigned to these higher priority fires.”
California District 4 Congressman Tom McClintock-R, jumped on board Tuesday and had his own questions. He sent a letter to Vicki Christiansen, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, requesting answers as to why there was a lack of suppression action and recommended reevaluating the current Forest Service direction that allows wildfires to burn.
“This fire has now burned over 23,000 acres (about 40,000 as of Tuesday afternoon) with no reported containment, threatening nearby communities and forcing evacuations,” McClintock said in the letter. “When was the decision made to monitor this fire instead of immediately acting to suppress it? Why was this decision made? Who made this decision and which USFS officials were consulted and informed? What legal authority authorized the USFS to allow this wildfire to burn in lieu of immediate full suppression?”
With worries about more immediate fires threatening communities, firefighting resources were allocated to more immediately pressing fires that threatened local communities, including the East Fork Fire, which was only 45% contained at the beginning of the Tamarack Fire.
The Tamarack Fire did not receive an on-ground fire team, and was instead monitored via air and fire cameras, before it grew massively on Friday, July 16. Officials added that the dangerous terrain came into the decision not to respond with a hand crew.
“With this rapid change in the fire, firefighting resources were dispatched on Friday, July 16, and arrived on scene at 3 p.m.,” said forest officials. “Additional firefighting resources were also ordered, including very large air tankers, single engine air tankers and helicopters.”
The fire has consumed several structures, but it’s still unclear how many.
The California Highway Patrol said in a social media post on Monday that approximately 10 structures have been lost.
As of Tuesday, a search for the Tamarack Fire on Gofundme showed three fundraisers, including an assistance fund for Alpine County residents evacuated from the fire that had almost reached its goal on Tuesday morning.
The CHP also warned on Tuesday that California State Route 88 could be closed in the Woodfords area again due to the fire getting dangerously close to the highway.
For up to date information about the Tamarack Fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7674/.
Miranda Jacobson is a Staff Writer with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com
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