Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson says a total of 14 fires broke out this morning along Highway 41, in what is being referred to as the Canal Fire incident.
Just before 10 a.m., CHP reported receiving multiple calls concerning numerous vegetation fires starting along Highway 41 between Avenue 12 and Road 406. At least ten fires were spotted, all on the east side of the road, including one at Road 406 reported by the first engine at scene at a half-acre. Another at Rocky Cut was contained at about ten acres.
The McDougald family owns a ranch just east of 41, and as the Canal fires were starting, members of the McDougald clan were reportedly out on quads with shovels, digging in and doing their part to contain the flames.
Highway 41 was closed between Road 200 and Road 145 and traffic was diverted around to Road 211.
Air Attack was dispatched out of Fresno, while air tankers responded from Columbia and Porterville. Two helicopters also worked the series of fires.
The fires along Highway 41 ranged in size from a spot about five by five feet, to as large as ten acres, according to authorities, and no structures were threatened. Total acreage on the Canal incident is not available at this time.
Highway 41 was closed until just after 4 p.m. while an investigation was conducted and the fires contained. So far, investigators have ruled out two potential causes of the Canal fires, including that of a vehicle dragging a chain and the chance of arson.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the response to Highway 41, at approximately 10:40 a.m., reports came in of a new fire burning in vegetation in the vicinity of the broken bridge near the dam in Friant. Additional resources were called in and some diverted from the Canal fires for the Millerton incident.
Some 30 fire engines were called into action between all of the fires, including resources from Madera County and Cal Fire.
Power lines were also in the path of the fire, but PG&E responded immediately to shut off power, so crews could enter the area. This allowed aircraft to knock down the flames before damage occurred to power lines.
“Fortunately we have had a lot of resources in the Fresno and Madera County areas due to fire activity over the last several days since the 4th of July,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson. “Because of that, we were able to get a lot of resources very quickly to help with these fires. Crews were already in the area from Riverside, San Bernadino, and San Diego.
“Right now, all the fires are contained and the forward progress has been stopped. We will have crews in the area for several hours to monitor and do mop-up.”
Road 206 reopened at 2:30 p.m. between Road 145 and Millerton Road, but immediately an accident was reported at the intersection, further snarling traffic which was already heavy along Road 211.
Investigators do not believe the two incidents are related.
A suspect who was seen in the area of the Millerton Fire has been taken into custody, though it is not clear at this time if that suspect is considered to be responsible for the blaze. That person was arrested by California State Parks law enforcement for unrelated charges.
Battalion Chief Christopherson asks the public, when preparing for travel, to make sure the vehicle being driven is mechanically sound and in good working order. If towing a trailer, he adds, ensure that no chains are dragging.