Railroad Grade Fire tripled Thursday

Published 9:09 am Friday, April 22, 2016

Contributed Photo/James Heaton  Firefighting agencies from more as far as New Mexico are on scene working hard to reinforce containment lines and drop water on the fire from overhead.

Contributed Photo/James Heaton
Firefighting agencies from more as far as New Mexico are on scene working hard to reinforce containment lines and drop water on the fire from overhead.

The Railroad Grade Fire was burning on 1,487 acres with 60 percent containment on Thursday night, according to Public Information Officer Sally Gentry with the Southern Area Gold Team, which arrive Thursday to provide additional support. The containment area is set at 1,500 acres.

“They’ve had some spotting outside the containment lines,” Gentry said. “Containment could mean a line dug by hand or by a dozer, or even a road or river could become a containment line, so when it’s that much contained, it means they have a pretty high degree of confidence that either the lines they’ve put in or that physical or geographical feature will hold.”

Gentry said she cannot predict the growth of the fire, because it is weather, topography and fuel dependent.

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“We know it is active with active spotting going on,” Gentry said. “We have some pretty significant winds. It’s certainly still a matter of concern for sure.”

The unusually dry weather and low humidity have contributed to the progress of the fire, she said.

“The report I just got is humidity at 17 percent, so that’s pretty low,” she said Thursday night.

She said they are hoping the rains forecasted for Thursday night and Friday will help dampen the blaze.

“The winds are keeping us pretty active, and terrain is pretty steep so its tough for firefighters to get in there,” she said. “A lot of the fire fighting is happening aerially.”

No additional structural damage has been reported.

Because fires are unpredictable, Gentry said residents should be “fire wise.”

“Anytime you have fire that’s near your home, there’s that potential of shifting wind and spotting, and that’s really when people can be proactive in making their homes fire wise,” Gentry said.

She said numerous resources exist online for residents to learn appropriate means of protecting their homes against wildfire now and in the future. Some of these techniques include removing overhanging limbs or shrubs growing against the home.

Public Information Officer Alice Cohen with the United States Forest Service said approximately 120 people were working to fight the fire in various capacities, and 35 others joined from the Gold Team Thursday.

“Because we have so many fires here, we’ve come in as a support function,” said Michelle Burnette, Gold Team Public Information Officer. “The district staff are fighting fires, and we provide logistical, operations and safety support as well as communication.”

This team includes employees from a number of federal and state agencies.

“They have a specialized role and come together when there is a more complex fire,” Cohen said. “They have their own system set up and are already organized to work together to cover all the functions of fighting the fire.”

Cohen said the fire currently poses no threat to the prison, and they are actually using that as a staging area to manage operations.
“The winds are coming our of the southeast, which pushes the fire towards National Forest land and away from structures, so that helps a lot,” Cohen said.

They are safeguarding the communications tower at White Rock, she said, by managing a fire line around it with fire retardant.

“Other than that, it’s a matter of keeping AT hikers safe,” she said.

They are still being rerouted on a Forest Road.

She said other than manpower, two helicopters, two dozers and one ATV are hard at work to contain the fire on steep terrain.

The fire began Monday afternoon and has grown ceaselessly since.