MARIPOSA COUNTY – A vegetation fire reported just before 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5, in the Chowchilla River canyon at Highway 49 is estimated at about 150 acres at this hour.
A full wildland response was called up for the Bridge Fire, but as the first engines arrived, it became apparent that additional resources would be needed immediately.
The incident commander called for Cal Trans and CHP to close Highway 49 on either side of the William Sell Bridge between Ahwahnee and Bootjack, and Sheriff’s deputies from both Mariposa and Madera Counties responded to the incident to assist.
Residents along Harris Cutoff Road were notified to evacuate, and as the fire spread quickly through the tinder-dry grass and brush, the evacuation orders were expanded to the Ponderosa Basin.
Five helicopters are dropping water, and six air tankers and two DC-10s continue to drop retardant out ahead of the blaze in an attempt to corral the fire, create a barrier for anything spotting out ahead of the leading edge, and take the heat out of the advancing flames.
There are hundreds of homes and other structures in the Ponderosa Basin, and the fire is threatening about 700 at this time, with 300 in immediate danger, along with 5 businesses.
The fire is making what are described as “very volatile runs,” fueled by gusting winds, and at this hour, is making a run up the Chowchilla River Canyon near Harris Road, exhibiting what is still “very significant fire behavior.”
The fire is moving to the northeast from the William Sell Bridge. Cal Fire has not yet posted a map of the incident.
Fire Operations continues to order up more resources, including strike teams, Hot Shot crews, ground crews, dozers and aircraft. Engines and personnel are arriving on scene, and will continue to do so throughout the evening and into the night.
Highway 49 is being reopened as of about 5:30 p.m., but it will be one-line traffic control. Fire equipment will be lining the northbound lane, so motorists are urged to be patient and watch for personnel along the roadway.
Evacuations have been ordered for homes on Harris Cutoff Road and all of the Ponderosa Basin Area.
Harris Cutoff Road is closed. Chowchilla Mountain Road is closed to all but evacuation and emergency traffic. All roads leading in and out of the Ponderosa Basin are closed.
Cal Fire, Madera County Fire, Mariposa County Fire and Sierra National Forest personnel have responded. Madera County and Mariposa County Sheriff’s Offices are assisting.
Cal Fire is currently in command of the incident, but they may establish joint command as the fire moves into Sierra National Forest Lands.
A Red Cross Shelter and evacuation resource center has been established at the New Life Christian Church located on Cole Road in Bootjack.
Recorded information is available from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office at 209-966-1133.