A wildfire threatened to close two mines in Mineral County and a historic ghost town in California.
The Spring Peak fire was touched off by lightning on Aug. 18 at about 10:30 a.m. At press time on Wednesday the blaze had consumed 14,300 acres of wild land near the old site of Aurora. On Aug. 19 the western edge of the fire crossed the state line into Nevada.
About 270 firefighters have been summoned to combat the blaze. At press time the fire was 39 percent contained, and crews expected to have the fire contained by Aug. 25.
Most of the crews are hand crews who are digging fire lines around the fire, said Mark Struble, a spokesman for the Sierra Front, the agency tasked with fighting the fire.
“It’s dirty, nasty, sometimes very dangerous work” to put out a fire, Struble said.
Most of the work has to stop overnight to protect firefighters from the difficult, mineshaft riddled terrain, Struble said.
The border-hopping fire started the day before Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement to cooperate when wildfires threaten the Tahoe basin.
“Wildfires are a constant threat throughout the state this time of year and I receive regular updates on the progress of our fire suppression efforts,” Sandoval said in an email. “The Nevada Division of Forestry currently has resources committed to the Spring Peak Fire, and continues to work with local and federal jurisdictions to help extinguish this fire.
“I want to extend my deepest thanks to the fire personnel, and to Mineral County’s first responders for their tireless work. Their jobs are never easy and as they continue to battle this fire, I want them to be assured of our continued gratification for their service.”
The Mineral County Fire Department, which had yet to send resources to combat the blaze at press time, issued a voluntary evacuation order for the Esmeralda and Borealis mines, Struble said.
Work stopped at Borealis mine and employees moved toward “caretaking,” Struble said.
A fast, irregular wind from the east drove the fire quickly toward Bodie, Calif., a ghost town just east of the border, Struble said. On Aug. 20, the fire was about three miles east of the town.
Crews in Bodie are clearing brush from around the roads to the east of Bodie to protect the town, Struble said.
“They’ve got, I don’t know how many engines, but I know there are a number of structure protection engines,” he said.
Crews are also constructing bulldozer lines to protect the town, said Janet Upton, CalFire deputy director. Bulldozer lines are about the size of a one-lane road, Upton said.
“It would look like a little tiny dirt road that wasn’t very good,” she said.
Struble said on Aug. 20 he expected the fire’s westward progress to slow when the irregular wind died down.
Bodie has not been evacuated, but all the roads leading into the town have been shut down so crews can move equipment through the area.
On Aug. 18, the fire launched columns of thick smoke into the sky. Flames were sometimes visible from as far away as Lucky Boy.
Lightning struck Aurora Valley several times during the afternoon of Aug. 18, but hasn’t started any other fires, Struble said.
For the first two days of operations, two Very Large Tankers, firefighting airplanes similar to the military’s DC-10, were used to lay down retardant lines to help stop the spread of the fire, Struble said.
The fire affected a high tension power transmission line in the area.
Faye Andersen, a spokeswoman for NV Energy, said the company operates a direct current transmission line and a power relay station in the area, but the only customer it serves is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Chris Plakos, a spokesman for LADWP, said power to the line was cut twice.
Plakos said the line was shut down by a relay (a safety switch that works like a circuit breaker in a home) for the first time at about 4 p.m. on Aug. 18. The line was re-energized early the next morning, but was shut down by another relay at 1 p.m. on Aug. 19. At about 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, the line was turned back on, and Plakos said it was still running at about 11 a.m. on Monday.
The outages caused by the fire don’t appear to have impacted the power supply to Los Angeles much.
“We have redundant supplies all over the place, just like any of the big cities do,” Plakos said. “If one supply goes down, you just turn on another one.”
Plakos said crews in the area checked for damage to the lines and power poles, but didn’t find any.
Smoke can sometimes interfere with the way transmissions lines work, said Plakos, who noted his specialty wasn’t engineering and wasn’t exactly sure how the process worked.
For the most up to date information about the Spring Peak fire, check the Sierra Front’s website: http://www.sierrafront.net/Media%20Information/fire_update.shtml.
The website is update often and Struble encouraged people who are curious about the fire to check frequently.