Rough fire team hopes to increase containment, lower staff costs by Friday

Fire managers coordinating the battle against the Rough fire, now the largest active wildfire in California at 79,973 acres, believe they will have a tighter handle on the blaze by Friday, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Rough fire public information officer Mike Lindbery said the official containment figure, 25 percent, is a little misleading.

“The amount of (containment) line around the fire has increased, but the fire also grew,” Lindbery said. “By Friday, we hope for pretty high containment.”

Lindbery said the firefighting efforts have shifted from protecting structures in Hume Lake and Balch Camp to stopping the blaze’s easterly progress. The buildings no longer are under immediate threat, so crews are starting to burn wilderness areas east of the blaze to slow its growth.

Changes in fire behavior or weather, however, could completely alter this prediction, he said.

“There’s always the potential for a crazy fire event, then it’s off to the races again.”

Smoke from the fire prompted Forest Service officials Tuesday afternoon to close the Hume Lake Ranger District, including campgrounds, to overnight use because of health risks from smoke. Portions of the district that were expected to open for Labor Day weekend will be open only to day use.

Lindbery said reducing the firefighting costs is a major concern for the management team. To date, the estimated cost sits at $52.1 million.

The National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho oversees management teams on every wildfire in the country, he said. The Rough fire was assigned a high priority because of its size and the threat to businesses, culturally significant areas and national resources such as the giant sequoia trees.

As containment increases and the imminent threat to buildings passes, the center will lower the Rough fire’s priority. Firefighting resources will then be sent home or reassigned, cutting the fire’s daily cost, Lindbery said.

Lindbery said the large incident command center, currently located on the Squaw Valley Rodeo Grounds, will shrink as the number of firefighters decreases.

There still is no estimate for when the Rough fire will be 100 percent contained. All campgrounds in Kings Canyon National Park remain closed, but no evacuation orders or warnings are in effect.