critical to fighting wildfires, KRRC's fire management plan
is upon us once again in the Klamath Basin.
When homes and
lives are at stake in a wildfire, nothing is more important
than having firebreaks and a readily available water source.
That’s exactly what’s provided by the reservoirs created by
dams on the Klamath River.
The fact that
the dams and those reservoirs are being targeted for removal
by the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) is a great
source of worry for residents, firefighters, and the County
of Siskiyou. Citizen safety is a primary responsibility of
of Copco and Iron Gate have proven critical to saving local
communities from wildfire for many years.
Water from the reservoirs
here 18 years, and every single year I’ve seen firefighting
aircraft come here for water,” said Copco Fire Department
Chief Francis Gill about Copco Lake.
He added that
water from the reservoirs is often used to put out small
fires, which has prevented countless wildfires.
“We’re in a
wildland interface area,” he said. “I’ve witnessed many
times where helicopters use water from the lake immediately
so a small house fire doesn’t burn the whole mountainside.”
When fires do
get out of control, the lakes are just as crucial. Last
year, the infamous Klamathon fire, which burned over 38,000
acres over 16 days, was finally stopped by firefighters —
thanks to the use of Iron Gate reservoir.
aircraft drafted 225,000 gallons of water per day. Most of
it came from Iron Gate reservoir. At the peak of the fight,
seventeen helicopters were engaged nonstop, sometimes
dropping water as quickly as every six minutes.
In the end, the
reservoir also helped by acting as a giant fire break. The
blaze was contained, and the communities of Hornbrook, Hilt,
and Colestin were saved.
Copco reservoir was used as a firebreak and water source to
help stop the 2014 Oregon Gulch fire, a 35,300-acre fire, of
which 10,000 acres were on the California side.
helicopters used [Copco] lake, making really nice short
circuits to pick up 600 gallons of water at a time, and
dumping it one minute away,” recalled Gill. “That was
literally right outside my back door.”
Firefighters’ lives at stake, too
In its fire
management plan, KRRC proposes to generate a map of pools in
the river and nearby “small cattle watering ponds” that
could be used by aircraft to draft water once the reservoirs
But with the
reservoirs gone, risk to firefighters’ lives will skyrocket.
Not only will fires take longer to put out — which means
fires will burn hotter and longer — but aircraft pilots will
be forced to attempt to draw water from the river itself.
problematic. As recently as 2006, two firefighters lost
their lives attempting to extract water from the river. Much
of the Klamath winds through narrow canyon walls and thick
vegetation, making helicopter extraction extremely
on the other hand, allow multiple helicopters and even large
water bombers to extract water at once, while still
remaining safe distances from one another.
Plenty of space
and deep pools will be of the essence over the next few
years: CAL FIRE is replacing all its small helicopters with
large, “Type 1” helicopters, which use snorkels to suction
With a snorkel
system, firefighters can safely and easily extract out of
the reservoirs. But it will be almost impossible with all
the hazards of a river-corridor canyon.
dams, few pools in the river (or nearby livestock ponds)
will be large enough to extract thousands of gallons of
water at once. Not only that, the bed of the river will
change dramatically when the roughly 13 million cubic yards
of sediment are released from behind the dams.
To make matters
worse, flammable vegetation is going to replace what is now
water in the reservoirs, increasing the fire risk even more.
facet of KRRC’s fire management plan is the proposed use of
dry hydrants by ground crews. Under this method, fire
engines would theoretically draft water from hydrants
channeling water from the river. KRRC has proposed numerous
sites for these hydrants.
most of the proposed sites are not viable for actual water
extraction. Hydrants must be no lower than 14 feet below a
fire truck, or else water can’t be drafted to the engine.
Due to the steep and often hard-to-navigate terrain along
the Klamath River, many of the proposed hydrants would be
out of that range.
residents and firefighters will be less safe without the
reservoirs — one more reason why dam decommissioning is so
strongly opposed in Siskiyou County.
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