Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Sierra Nevada Creek Fire

At the L.A. Times, "Sierra fire’s unstoppable path of destruction devastates town, sends residents fleeing":

As the sun set in the Sierra Nevada Friday, about 50 residents of the mountain hamlet of Big Creek gathered on an overlook at the edge of town. The Creek fire, as it would be called, had just started burning in the canyon below.

It seemed minor, and those assembled looked on hopefully as planes and a helicopter dropped water on it.

“It was a Friday night, something to watch, something to do. We are a bunch of hillbillies,” joked Toby Wait, the superintendent, principal and gym teacher for the town’s 55-student school. “Fire is part of our lives, but this was small.”

It didn’t stay small.

In the hours and days that followed, the Creek fire has exploded into a monster inferno that has consumed nearly 100,000 acres, enlisted nearly 1,000 firefighters, isolated small foothill communities and threatened to burn until mid-October.

California’s fire season got an early start this year with the massive lightning fires in the coastal mountains and wine country. Even without the fall Santa Ana winds, more than 2 million acres have burned so far in 2020, more than in any previously recorded year. Now the Creek fire promises to be one of the worst of the season.

For the mountain communities lying east of Fresno, the assessment as of Monday afternoon looked especially grave.

Fueled by millions of dead trees, the Creek fire has raced through mountain communities like Big Creek and vacation getaways like Huntington and Shaver Lake, confounding firefighters with unpredictable and terrifying behavior. Its smoke plumed nearly 50,000 feet high. There were lightning strikes. Forests seemed to explode.

The drama seemed to peak Saturday night when a CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter rescued some 200 campers trapped by flames at Mammoth Pool.

But among the thousands fighting the fire or evacuating from its path, there have been no reports of deaths.

Damage to property and homes is more difficult to assess. The fire is burning so dangerously and intensely that crews who normally count destroyed houses and buildings have been told to stand down for their own safety...