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Plumas fire prompts Stanislaus air warning

While smoke pours into Stanislaus County from Plumas County to the north, a 17-member firefighting “strike team” is being assembled in Modesto to help check the spread of another fire burning to the east.

Stanislaus Fire Warden Gary Hinshaw said the “Lick Fire,” which originated on the Santa Clara County side of Henry Coe State Park, had burned into Stanislaus County.

“It’s burning in very steep terrain near Red Creek and Orestimba Creek,” Hinshaw said. “We sent a strike team of Type 3 engines to the Lick Fire at about 3 o’clock this morning.

“We’re in the process of putting together another strike team.”

Type 3 fire engines are smaller and more mobile than the engines that operate in Modesto and other cities, Hinshaw said.

The Plumas fire spurred San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District officials to issue a cautionary health warning for Stanislaus County.

Smoke from the fire raging near Greenville in Plumas County — nearly 170 miles north of Modesto — was blamed for the unhealthy cloud enveloping San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

“Nothing is registering on the air quality monitors, yet,” said Anthony Presto, an air district spokesman based in Modesto, “but if you can smell smoke when you go outdoors, go back indoors.”

Presto continued: “What we’re seeing on satellite imagery is a large smoke plume from Plumas County moving south down the valley.”

By the end of the day, Presto said smoke from the Plumas fire, officially dubbed the “Moonlight Fire,” could fill the entire San Joaquin Valley today.

Officials in Plumas County said the fire had tripled in size overnight, prompting some evacuations of scattered homes in the Lights Creek area.

The fire, which was reportedly 5 percent contained shortly before noon, is burning along and south of the ridgeline bordering the Plumas and Lassen National Forests.

It grew to about 12,000 to 15,000 acres overnight due to the smoke column collapsing, said Mark Beaulieu, fire information officer for the Plumas National Forest.

“During the day you have an uplift of smoke and at night, when the temperatures cooled down and the winds shifted, the column collapsed,” he said. “With a fire this size, that tends to exacerbate existing weather conditions for the worst.”

While no communities or towns have been evacuated, some people have been ordered to leave the area, Beaulieu said.

The blaze also has prompted a call for additional firefighters to join the 1,000 people already battling the blaze, the cause of which remains unknown and under investigation.

Beaulieu said smoke is visible throughout most of Plumas and Lassen counties.

“Here in Quincy,” he said, “we had ash on our vehicles in the morning.”

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Smoke from the Plumas fire spreads

Real-time view from the National Weather Service