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Ranchers, others grapple with wildfires’ aftermath

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Fire crews are gaining an upper hand on several major wildfires in northeastern California, which have burned thousands of acres of timber and grazing land.

Capital Press

REDDING, Calif. — As crews gain an upper hand on several major wildfires in northeastern California, ranchers and others are coming to grips with the fires’ destruction.

Ranchers Kim and Ira Brackett run their cattle in Modoc County during the summer and fall, but the 13,153-acre Day Fire burned much of their forage. Fortunately their cattle came out unscathed except for one cow, which had a burn mark on its side.

“We lost most of our fall grazing,” Kim Brackett said. “That’s a big hit for us. This drought has hit us hard. We don’t have any fall feed right now. It’s tough to decide what to do.”

In Hat Creek, Calif., ranchers Henry and Pam Giacomini saw the 32,416-acre Eiler Fire burn part of their property.

“Everything’s fine — we didn’t lose any cattle,” Henry Giacomini said. “We had no concerns with our irrigated field.”

But on their street alone, the fire burned a restaurant, a store, several homes and a garage, he said. And the 39,736-acre Bald Fire near Fall River Mills, Calif., claimed part of the Giacominis’ U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment.

“We did have some pretty big scares thinking about what might happen if conditions shifted,” he said. “We were frantically trying to move those cows and move their water … a fair distance away from the fire.”

Ranchers feared the Eiler and Bald fires could join and become one huge blaze, but rain on Aug. 5 “settled it all down,” said Giacomini, a Shasta County Farm Bureau board member.

“I don’t know of any cattle that were hurt, and no people were hurt,” he said. “There’s a lot of loss of timber. A lot of it’s Forest Service, but there’s a lot of private timber ground ... that was involved as well.

“There’ll be some pretty significant salvage operations starting as soon as they can be started,” he said.

The blazes, which started amid thunderstorms in late July and were fueled by dry brush and hot weather, are among more than a dozen burning throughout California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Aug. 2. As of Aug. 12, the Day and Bald fires were mostly contained, while the Eiler Fire is 65 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported.

The Eiler Fire, which started southeast of Burney, Calif., destroyed seven homes, two commercial buildings and 12 other structures, according to Cal Fire.

In addition to thousands of acres of timber and grazing land, the fire burned several apiary yards along Highway 89 in eastern Shasta County and destroyed one beekeeper’s house, county Agricultural Commissioner Paul Kjos said.

Hay producers reported that ash was falling on their bales and stacks but didn’t start any new fires, Kjos said. And despite smoky skies, high-elevation growers of strawberry plants for nurseries were starting their harvests on schedule, he said.

For the Giacominis, this certainly wasn’t the first fire to come through the area. A campground owned by the family has been used for staging firefighters during past blazes. But this one was too close for comfort.

“For us personally, this one was different,” Giacomini said. “This one got personal and it got big and scary … I have a whole different appreciation for how much power there can be in this kind of situation.

“It sounds like a cliché, but fire is somewhat normal,” he said. “They happen, and they are going to continue to happen. It doesn’t make us want to leave, but it certainly makes us more personally aware of being ready and trying to do the things you need to do to be protected.”


Cal Fire incident information: http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_current


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