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Residents React to Evacuations

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NEAR SAWYERS BAR, Calif. — The July Complex is now nearly 30,000 acres, and it continues to threaten homes, cabins, and even whole communities in Northern California.

There are currently several mandatory evacuations notices for the communities of Sawyers Bar, Eddy Gulch, Little North Fork, Idlewild, Mule Bridge, Robinson Flat and Whites Gulch areas.

In the mandatory evacuation zone near Sawyer’s Bar, fire officials have set up sprinkler systems, as fire moves closer to structures and structure protection is the top priority. When mandatory evacuation orders are put in place in Siskiyou County, residents are informed by the sheriff’s department and expected to leave immediately, but that’s not always the case.

Liz Robinson lives in Sawyers Bar, home to less than 200 people, but instead of packing up for the evacuation, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I have a pump down in the river, and I have fire hoses coming up from the pump…two individual sprinklers, and there’s probably 6 sprinklers out there and just protecting my home,” said Robinson.

While firefighters are sympathetic, they also say it makes their job much harder.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” said Kaleena Lynde, the July Complex Public Information Officer. “This is their town, they know the area very well, the love their homes they love their life here… our number one priority is protecting life. Because they’re here, that’s more lives we have to think about protecting outside of our own firefighters.”

In this case, the nearby Scott Valley Family Resource Center is ready to help out any evacuees.

“We’re open for people who need to come in and breathe fresh air, and it’s air conditioned so it’s cool. We can supply food, meals for them. We also help them find housing if they need it, temporary housing,” said Marilyn Seward at the Resource Center.

But Robinson is still willing to take her chances.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Robinson. “Fire doesn’t run downhill, it runs uphill, and fortunately we are on the downhill side and there’s a lot of rock between us and the fire.”

Fire Officials will continue to monitor structures in this area as this fire continues to grow.

4 comments

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  1. Jerod Knox says:

    Nothing about how the Forest Service wasn’t even going to fight this fire as of 2 weeks ago due to lack of man power and resources? Or that several other fires have started since the Whites fire became a priority, further dividing their efforts? Or about the three historic buildings lost already? Or about the dozens of other locals who have worked around the clock helping each other prepare their community for this fire?

    I kind of wish you hadn’t bothered….

    Also, “Scotts” Valley is a town south of San Francisco…. Not sure why it was mentioned here…

  2. Sonja says:

    You totally missed the mark with this story.

  3. Lissa Englert says:

    You totally missed the story. There was absolutely no outside help of any kind when they issued a mandatory evacuation of Sawyers Bar. The only outside presence was the Sheriff’s Department coming through with sirens and flashing lights telling everyone to leave or stay at their own risk.
    For the next couple of days the local community pooled their own resources and used their own manpower to start to secure the town. There is some help there now but the lion’s share of the work is being done by the town’s folks and others from surrounding areas whose homes are also at risk. Contrary to your article, the people who stayed are not a liability, they are a knowledgable, industrious group of folks who know the lay of the land and have been through enough fires to know what to do. Those are their homes. Who better to keep them safe. They have set up water systems, secured the local water source, and even furnished a lot of the equipment to protect their town. You should do a story about the resiliency of these communities, not one that berates them for not blindly giving up and fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. Shame on you for not getting to the truth.

  4. Scott Harding says:

    This is an unfortunate, poorly researched, and misleading story.

    What I saw on the Whites Fire in the July Complex went more like this: for understandable reasons, ⅔ of the July Complex resources were dedicated to the Log Fire near Quartz Valley where there were more homes near fire. This left the Whites Fire understaffed but resources were stretched too thin to remedy this situation. But on Aug. 10, the Whites Fire unexpectedly blew over the North Fork Salmon River and Sawyers Bar Road and established itself as an imminent threat to residences within a seven mile stretch from Mule Bridge downriver to the entire town of Sawyers Bar (pop. 25, not 200 as reported).

    On the morning of Aug. 11 there still wasn’t a single fire engine in sight in Sawyers Bar but a team of a dozen or more local volunteers had already assembled to hastily prepare the town for the fire by clearing brush, weed eating, and evacuating the contents of residences closest to the approaching fire. That afternoon, the fire blew up immensely, quickly consuming several thousand acres within 2 miles of Sawyers Bar. A public information meeting happened to be scheduled for that evening in Sawyers Bar and, for at least part of that meeting, the Incident Commander downplayed the situation, using terms like “creeping around” to describe the fire’s behavior, all the while a 20,000 foot plume was towering overhead (literally). This plume sparked off more than 30 new wildfires, including those now in the Happy Camp Complex. When pressed with the community’s concern over the lack of any significant firefighting presence in town (just 2 engines by this time), he promised 30 fire engines in Sawyers Bar the next day. Only 10 arrived, and they came without pumps and sprinklers needed to help protect structures.

    The fire blew up again on Aug. 12, this time in Whites Gulch, continuing to push toward Sawyers Bar and, even closer, toward residences up Eddy Gulch. Locals did not wait to be helped in this situation: they took it upon themselves and at their own expense to do all that could be done to protect homes from fire. This local crew placed 14 pumps in the river beside Sawyers Bar and utilized 16 sprinkler kits provided by the USFS to place protection at individual structures and vulnerable areas where spot fires could take hold within the town.

    More fire fighting resources arrived over the next two days and–very luckily–the weather shifted and bought some time for the entire firefighting effort. It just as easily could have gone down that Eddy Gulch and Sawyers Bar saw flames on the 13th before fire lines were cleaned up and plumbed. The firefighter’s strategy is to try to hold oncoming fire on one of two lines placed above one side of town. And, now, because of the dedicated efforts of a dozen locals, structures are protected by all the sprinklers, hoses, and nozzles that are connected to tens of thousands of dollars of locally provided equipment. The locals’ efforts will help provide protection even if fire arrives from the other side of town than that protected by the fire lines. This is a distinct possibility given the fire is burning toward both sides of town. The pumps and sparklers can also be left running if fire forces all firefighters to leave for their own safety.

    All efforts put together, the town is much better protected than it would have been if locals had simply left having done nothing. So…to see the Forest Service herd the media on a tour where the story they told is that the locals are in the way and the Forest Service placed sprinklers at every house in Sawyers Bar is not only unfortunate but something of a tall tale. There was also a good rapport and cooperation between the local “Hillbilly Hotshots” and the firefighters working in town. Locals were also prepared to provided detailed GIS maps of structures needing protection, past fire lines, info from previous wildfires, and a multitude of other essential information. This community, small as it is, is amazingly adept and experienced at handling wildfire and the local Salmon River Restoration Council has staff members skilled in providing professional assistance to firefighters.

    The real story is how a small community that has seen many wildfires before (including in 2013 and 1977, 1987, 1994, 2006, 2008, 2009…) pulled together to fill in the missing resources in the firefighting effort. People did not evacuate (it is not required to do so) and instead worked in cooperation with the larger firefighting effort to help protect a historic and remote community from an approaching wildfire. This is not something that happens often so to have a reporter come to town and miss what was really happening is rather disappointing. The reporter did not even bother to connect with either of the trained local community fire liaisons that helped to organize the local effort nor with any of the dozen community members who were busy working throughout town as she came through.

    I encourage you to look online at the Salmon River & Orlreans Complexities Facebook group that was set up to help provide a communication venue during events like these on the Salmon River. There is a great story in photos and words of how the Salmon River communities have pulled together to deal with three major wildfires during the past two summers. The link is https://www.facebook.com/groups/537554202959342/

    (This particular story really began a week earlier when the same locals successfully provided structure protection for the Rainbow Mine when there were no firefighters available to do so…then they moved on to Sawyers Bar when the fire shifted course that direction…and will continue to assist no matter where it heads next.)

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