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Grass Valley, CA October 17, 2017 – When two wildfires began to spread in the wee hours of Monday, Oct. 9, local fire fighters scrambled to evacuate neighborhoods and battle rapidly spreading flames in darkness, both in Rough and Ready and off McCourtney Road by the Nevada County Fairgrounds. In the morning, crews continued to beat back the fires, which had consumed more than 500 acres in a matter of hours.
In what quickly was shaping up to be a community disaster, Nevada Irrigation District (NID) came out in force to ensure water supplies were available for firefighting efforts. NID crews worked in canals, cleaning out debris to keep water running to be available where needed. The district’s water treatment section increased water storage in anticipation of increased demand.
Extra crews were already in the field on Sunday while the fires were flaring, responding to damage caused by strong winds with gusts reported at 50 miles per hour. Workers were clearing debris clogging canals and limiting services downstream to ensure the district’s 400 miles of canals were clear and water was flowing free.
The first call of a vegetation fire on Lone Lobo Trail off Bitney Springs Road in Penn Valley came in at 11:37 pm on Sunday, Oct. 8. By 3 am the fire had taken off with 200 acres burned, and evacuations were in full effect. Firefighters were battling the flames from different directions and providing structure protection for homes.
About 20 minutes after the Lobo Fire breakout, another blaze — a structure fire with rapid spread to the wildland — was reported on Orion Way off McCourtney Road. Immediate residential evacuations started, and by 2 am crews were providing structure protection as the fire continued to spread. By 7:30 am an estimated 150 acres had been consumed.
From the onset, NID coordinated with CalFire and other agencies to ensure district water was flowing and available for firefighting efforts.
As part of that, NID increased water flows to its system to get water through the canals during fire conditions. Wildfires typically create fallout debris of vegetation, heavy branches, rocks and earth that can fall into and clog canals quickly. For example, treatment plant personnel at the Lake Wildwood facility filled tanks and water distribution operators increased flows to the Deer Creek System to get to Lake Wildwood.
Helicopters scooped water from ponds and Lake Wildwood and had pumps in NID canals. And fire agencies also used the canals as fire breaks. For example, Tunnel Ditch, a canal near Rough and Ready, served as a fire break for the Lobo Fire.
In addition, as the Grass Valley Air Attack Base at the Nevada County Airpark began sending air tankers to make drops on the fires, NID reconfigured its system and turned on a crucial pump station to boost water pressure so the base would have ample and timely supplies to mix its fire retardant properly.
“We are very proud of all of the folks here at NID who were ready and committed to supporting our firefighters by making sure they had all the resources they needed, to provide for the defense of our community,” said Rem Scherzinger, NID general manager.