Firefighters working the Willow Fire in the Yuba County foothills made good progress overnight and into Friday, seeing containment grow to 35 percent with 1,311 acres burned.
Cal Fire reported that at least 31 structures had been destroyed by the Willow Fire, with another six structures damaged. Another 400 structures were still considered threatened, though Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit public information officer Mary Eldridge said crews had stopped the fire’s forward progress.
“The crews’ main mission this morning was to really secure the lines around every residence within the burn area to get everyone back home,” Eldridge said. “We don’t have an active fire right now, but crews are making sure everything that is smoking stays out so that if we see increased winds, nothing sparks up and creates an active fire.”
While the smoke caused by the Willow Fire and other regional fires has significantly impacted the Yuba-Sutter area’s air quality, its presence actually benefited firefighters in their efforts.
“It sounds counter-intuitive, but the smoke cover has prevented the sun’s heat from causing increased fire activity. Winds have stayed down and they’ve been able to make some great progress overnight,” Eldridge said.
Yuba County Sheriff’s spokesperson Leslie Carbah said about 500 residents impacted by the Willow Fire were still evacuated as there are certain portions of the burn area that hadn’t been given the green light to repopulate.
The North Complex Fires, specifically the West Zone (Bear Fire), still threatens the northern part of the county, where evacuations are still in place for communities such as Strawberry Valley, Forbestown, Rackerby, Clipper Mills, Woodleaf and Brownsville-Challenge. The fire is still active but has yet to reach the Yuba County border.
The North Complex Fires had burned approximately 252,534 acres and were 23 percent contained as of Friday afternoon.
– Eldridge said residents should take time this weekend to ensure that they are prepared to leave at a moment’s notice for any future evacuations. Go-bags should contain items that cannot be left behind if the person needed to leave immediately. Also, she said, residents should take some time backing up copies of important documents – birth certificates, insurance papers, etc. – to a cloud storage system that can be accessed from anywhere.
“It’s important to remember that all of these things can be replaced except for people,” Eldridge said. “When there is a Red Flag Warning, make sure your vehicle is full of gas and that it never gets below half of a tank. If you can’t open your garage door because the power is out, park outside and make sure to point the vehicle toward the road in case you need to get out in a hurry in the middle of the night.”
– Yuba County media and community relations coordinator Russ Brown said Friday that most of the evacuees at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds were from the area near the Plumas and Butte county border with Yuba County. The goal was to get everyone at the fairgrounds relocated by the end of the day to a more permanent location.
Stephen Walsh with the Red Cross said the fairgrounds is being used as a temporary evacuation point and not a long-term shelter. The Red Cross is providing snacks and water and assisting in relocating people to nearby hotels or motels.
Brown said Yuba County provided hotel vouchers for 34 individuals and the Red Cross provided just under 200 vouchers that are for specific hotels. Other possible locations such as campsites and trailer parks were being looked into on Friday.
“Nobody’s going to be kicked out of the site that we have,” Brown said regarding people still at the fairgrounds.
The Salvation Army is providing meals to evacuees throughout Northern California. In Yuba City, it is providing 195 meals per day to two hotels where evacuees are being relocated to, according to a news release.
– Weather: Hannah Chandler-Cooley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said fire weather concerns are not too high this weekend as a system is forecast to move in from the coast and will bring moisture and some winds to the Yuba-Sutter area starting on Sunday.
“It does look like this system could bring some gusty winds to the Yuba-Sutter area but the strongest winds are forecast to the north of that area,” said Chandler-Cooley.
According to Chandler-Cooley, the winds could reach 15 to 20 miles an hour and are expected to be most prominent in the afternoon to early evening hours Sunday through Tuesday.
Chandler-Cooley said because this weather system is expected to bring higher humidity levels to the area, there are not great concerns about the effects the winds could have on the fire burning in Yuba County.
Chandler-Cooley said temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-80s through the low-90s throughout Tuesday with Saturday anticipated to be the warmest day. These temperatures are two to eight degrees below average.
“Overall the smoke cover is keeping temperatures a bit lower than normal,” said Chandler-Cooley. “If the cloud cover stays decently thick then temperatures shouldn’t reach into the 90s.”
– Air Quality: The Feather River Air Quality Management District and the Bi-county Health Department have extended an air quality health advisory through Monday, in response to the poor air quality conditions throughout the region from wildfire smoke.
As of Friday, air quality in the Yuba-Sutter region was listed as unhealthy, according to www.airnow.gov, and is expected to stay at that level through the weekend.
“The Sutter and Yuba Public Health Departments advise residents with lung or heart disease, and the elderly to leave areas where levels of particulate matter are high,” it was stated in a coordinated release issued by all three departments. “For everyone else, when you smell smoke, or see smoke around you, you should consider staying indoors and avoiding heavy exertion.”
The Colusa County Air Pollution Control District also extended the air quality advisory in effect in Colusa County through Monday as air quality in that area is in the unhealthy range as well and is anticipated to stay there through the weekend.
– Health Concerns: Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu said that with all that that is going on, it is certainly a lot to handle in terms of anxiety and stress.
“For your mental health, try to get plenty of rest, talk with family and friends, take deep breaths … try to compartmentalize the various issues going on and reach out for help,” said Luu. “In terms of physical health, try to stay indoors as much as possible to escape the smoke and ash.”
According to Luu, the ash in the air is not healthy to breath in and can cause symptoms such as itchy eyes and a scratchy throat.
“The conditions are unhealthy for everyone but particularly so for those sensitive groups with heart disease, respiratory issues, the elderly, pregnant women and young children,” said Luu.
– PG&E: Some 6,800 customers in Butte, Humboldt, Plumas, Trinity and Yuba counties were unable to receive power as of Friday afternoon due to ongoing threats from wildfires and requests from first responders to keep power lines de-energized to assist firefighting efforts and to keep firefighters safe, according to a release issued by Pacific Gas and Electric.
PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno said those customers were de-energized early Wednesday morning at the request of Cal Fire.
That comes after 2,400 Yuba County customers were impacted by a power shutoff event that began Monday night and lasted until Thursday.
As of Friday afternoon, Moreno said the utility does not anticipate any shutoff events in the next seven days.
David Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org, contributed to this report.