Northern California Fires | One Dead, Firefighter Injured, Old Growth Forest Could Be Threatened

Sage Alexander – Times-Standard, Eureka, Calif.
Aug. 21—Dozens of fires across Northern California continue to burn, sparked by periods of dry lightning that hit the ground starting early last week. The wildfires are burning across several counties, with many rural communities threatened or under evacuation orders. The largest of the blazes is the Smith River complex in Del Norte County, at an estimated 28,700 acres as of the Times-Standard’s print deadline on Monday.

Lightning complex

A firefighter suffered “catastrophic injuries” Wednesday after being struck by a falling tree during the night shift on the Lone Pine fire. The firefighter was evacuated and has gone through two successful surgeries, and remains in the intensive care unit, according to a Sunday press release from the U.S. Forest Service. The release notes an “inquiry” has been prompted about the event. This inquiry is to find the cause of the incident, said Adrianne Rubiaco, a fire public affairs specialist for the Six Rivers National Forest.

The hotshot — a ground firefighter working near the hottest possible points — firefighter is likely Diego Rivera, a GoFundMe page for whom was created Friday. Rivera is a hotshot firefighter who is a member of the Little Tujunga IHC, according to the page. It states he sustained serious injuries fighting a fire in the Six Rivers National Forest “when a burning dead tree came down.” The page has raised over $75,000 to pay for medical expenses, as of press time.

Rivera was among firefighters battling the Lone Pine Fire, currently burning south of Hoopa into the Horse Linto Creek watershed. This is part of the recently named 2023 lightning complex. Firefighting efforts for the Lone Pine Fire include pushing the fire toward the Trinity River to a planned backing alignment.

As of Sunday, the blaze is estimated to be 1,624 acres, in national forest and Hoopa land. Smoke continues to impact neighboring communities, with the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District noting levels of “very unhealthy” reported in Weitchpec, Hoopa and Willow Creek.

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In the Orleans area, the Pearch fire is estimated at 981 acres and smoke levels ranged from very unhealthy to hazardous. Fire lines from 2006 are being reestablished, as the fire pushed north as of Monday.

“Orleans community residents are planning volunteer work days to assist firefighters in creating defensible space around structures,” a Sunday USFS press release noted.

An evacuation warning is set for two zones near the Pearch fire, including about 243 residents, to alert people to prepare for potential evaluations. Those close to fires are encouraged to learn their zones at

As for the parks, according to a press release, a fire in the Lost Man Creek Watershed has the “potential to spread to old growth,” but is currently burning in a second growth forest. Firefighters are making a shaded fuel break along Holter Ridge Road. The “Lost” fire is 0% contained and is estimated at 351 acres as of Monday afternoon. The other two fires in the parks are 100% contained. This fire has prompted the closure of Lost Man Trail from the trailhead on Bald Hills Road to the gate at the Lost Man Picnic Area.

The lightning complex’s total acreage is at 4,435 as of Monday afternoon, and the complex is at 15% containment in its entirety. The lightning complex includes Six Rivers National Forest fires of Lone Pine, Pearch, Mosquito, Blue Creek, Blue Creek 2, Bluff #1, Let-er-buck as well as three wildfires in Redwood National and State Parks: the Lost, Devil and Glenn Fires.

A Monday press release notes the Six Rivers National Forest is implementing a forest closure order on the Gasquet, Lower Trinity, and Mad River Ranger Districts, prohibiting public access of any national forest land, road or trail within the closure area.

Smith River

Rubiaco said firefighters are facing challenges at the Smith River Complex, which includes 12 fires. The whole complex is at 28,700 acres, as of Monday afternoon. The largest fires in the complex are the Kelly and Holiday fires, the former of which has caused the closure of part of US Highway 199, with no estimated time of reopening.

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“Six Rivers National Forest is pretty notorious for having extremely steep, rugged terrain,” said Rubiaco. This creates problems with access and physical taxation for firefighters.

The terrain is compounding with weather conditions Rubiaco said are “not normal.”

“This is not an average fire activity or behavior up there,” she said. The vegetation of the area is abnormally dry, with below average rainfall this year making the fires resistant to being controlled.

The complex has prompted nearby evacuations, and the Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds. Updated evacuation orders will be released by Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office.

“The southern end of the Kelly fire became aligned and made an uphill run,” noted a Sunday press release from the USFS.

Rubiaco said that while smoke presented some difficulty, air units were able to get fire retardant and water on the complex. The press release noted that thunderstorms recently caused erratic winds over some of the fires.

Gasquet is experiencing largely unhealthy air conditions as of Monday, with Crescent City being good to moderate and Klamath at moderate.

In-person classes have been cancelled, at least until Aug. 28, at the Del Norte Campus of College of the Redwoods.

Other closures are in effect at the north end of the Redwoods State and National Parks due to the Smith River Complex. Visit for more information.

Happy Camp/Klamath National Forest

The Happy Camp complex in Siskiyou County has prompted hundreds to be evacuated. A total number of 755 people have been evacuated as of Monday, with nine structures destroyed and two damaged. 1,609 structures are threatened.

One man was found dead by Siskiyou Sheriff’s Office deputies around 2 a.m. in the driveway of his home on Roxbury Drive while evacuating the community. Ken Lee Oliver, 71, of Scott Bar is the only reported fatality so far related to the fires, with the office noting the death has warranted an ongoing investigation, with an autopsy to be conducted.

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The complex has a total size of 10,507 acres.

Two new fires sparked Sunday afternoon following more lightning activity. A Klamath National Forest press release noted that some showers were heavy and slides again impacted areas of Highway 96.

Nathan Judy, a fire information officer for the Klamath National Forest said that higher humidity and limited rain that forecasted to fall on some of the 13 fires will help firefighting efforts this week. The largest fire in the area is the Head Fire.

Judy said that while the fires were likely caused by lightning, it’s still technically categorized under investigation.

The containment of the complex is at 0%.

Part of the Pacific Crest Trail is closed. Two portions of the National Forest have been closed, visit for information on these closures.

View current Siskiyou County evacuation orders, warnings by visiting: and Monitoring CodeRED for current information.

An evacuation center has been established at the Kahtishraam Wellness Center in Yreka.

South Fork

Evacuation warnings have been issued for two zones in the South Fork Complex.

“The fires are located in areas with steep rugged terrain which contains a dense concentration of drought stressed trees. Many of these trees are dead and down on the ground, which is contributing to the fire’s spread. The condition of the trees also creates a dangerous environment for firefighters as they are unstable and may have branches that could fall and injure those working below them,” a press release from Shasta Trinity National Forest noted.

Sage Alexander can be reached at 707-441-0504


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Sage Alexander – Times-Standard, Eureka, Calif. Aug. 21—Dozens of fires across Northern California continue to burn, sparked by periods of dry lightning that hit the ground starting early last week. The wildfires are burning across several counties, with many rural communities threatened or under evacuation orders. The largest of the blazes is the Smith River […]

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