Aug 31st, 2022
It has been a month and a day since the start of the McKinney and Yeti fires. In that time, our interagency firefighting organization (with help from our amazing partners from Siskiyou County and all over the country) capably managed the complexity and scope of these challenging fires.
There have also been a number of fires in the last month that we have caught which had significant potential to grow fast and be dangerous to people and our precious Siskiyou County communities – the Kelsey Fire near Fort Jones, the Alex Fire west of Hilt, the Curly Fire near Happy Camp, the Callahan near Kangaroo Lake, and the George Fire on the Scott River Road. I’m proud of – and still a little bit in awe of – our success with catching these fires. Our Siskiyou County firefighters are a tremendously talented group of individuals. But neither we, nor CAL FIRE Siskiyou Unit did it alone. Firefighters parachuted or rappelled into remote, difficult-to- access sites and firefighters from Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest even came down to help us with the fires that were approaching the state line.
Currently the containment on the Yeti Fire stands at 98% and the McKinney is at 99%. Firefighters remain engaged in patrolling the perimeter of both fires for any hot spots and finishing up suppression repair efforts and both incidents have transitioned to smaller organizations reflecting the reduced complexity of the fires. The Yeti Fire has gone back to the Happy Camp/Oak Knoll District and is being run as a Type 4 incident. On Sunday, the McKinney transitioned from a Type 2 Incident Management team to a local Type 3 organization being run by two highly skilled Incident Commanders – Aaron Kendall is a Forest Fire Chief whom we’ve partnered up with local IC trainee George “Keoki” Correa, who has 20 years of work in fire and whose day job is a Captain on the Klamath’s own Salmon Hotshots.
Right now, the team is working on the next step of our response to the McKinney Fire: addressing danger trees that have the potential to impact roadways, potentially harming firefighters or members of the public. The threat posed by danger trees has been driven home for me personally in the last weeks, as we lost two young firefighters due to tree strikes in southern Oregon. Monday, I represented the Klamath National Forest alongside Engine 376 from the Goosenest Ranger District in a public ceremony honoring Logan Taylor, a 25-year-old firefighter from Talent, Oregon who tragically died last week after a tree strike on the Rum Creek Fire.
These losses leave me even more committed to addressing this critical issue. Completing this work now will allow for safer conditions in the future and for the firefighters and restoration crews who are currently working within the fire footprints. Doing nothing with these critically damaged trees would leave a legacy of dead and dying trees that will pose hazards to firefighters and members of the public for years to come. Falling these trees while they are still sound is safer than waiting for rot to set in, posing a hazard to sawyers working to safely remove them in the future. Danger tree mitigation will include falling dead and damaged trees that have the potential to hit roadways and removing them from the roadside corridor with heavy equipment.
This work has already been in full swing on the Yeti Fire, where firefighters identified the need for emergency roadside danger tree work to be completed as a part of the continued fire response operations. These danger trees are being removed adjacent to and along major access routes within the Yeti Fire footprint. This work is being done in partnership with Karuk Tribal representatives to identify access routes that lead to important areas for tribal cultural practices.
Danger tree identification and remedying takes a long time, and folks will likely be working on it into the fall. Any firefighters involved in this work will still be available to respond to new fires that are threatening communities, infrastructure, or natural resources, should the need arise.
I am grateful that we no longer have smoke from Klamath fires in the air. The work that has been done in recent weeks is nothing short of remarkable. It gives me hope and keeps me optimistic even as we continue to grieve the tremendous losses that our area has experienced in recent weeks.
Thank you for your support, your patience, and kindness as we work hard to protect your public lands and our communities.
Smith Forest Supervisor
Klamath National Forest and Butte Valley National Grassland
1711 S. Main St. Yreka CA 96097 www.fs.fed.us
Caring for the land and serving people