OAKHURST – The Courtney Fire, which started on Sunday, Sept. 14, at 1:36 p.m. has now burned over 320 acres with an estimated 20% containment.
The fire started on Courtney Lane, just off Road 426, and quickly spread north and east, racing through the tinder-dry grass and brush toward the Bass Lake Heights neighborhood at the top of Road 426.
Air tankers and helicopters were called out immediately as the first engines on scene reported the dangerous potential, and the immediate threat to about 50 homes.
Strike teams of engines, crews and bulldozers began heading toward the blaze, and firefighters staged around homes along Road 426 and other roads in the path of the fire.
Road closures were put in place between Courtney Lane and Road 223 (the turnoff to The Forks), and evacuation notices were issued to over 1,000 residents as an estimated 400 homes were soon threatened.
As the fire roared up the hill and residents scrambled to gather belongings and pets, aircraft bombarded the flames, and firefighters hurried to get hose lays in place and protect homes. Despite their best efforts, 21 structures had been lost as of 9 p.m. Sunday.
As crews staged at Road 426 and 223, anxious residents parked and ran down the road to save animals trapped in homes. One Cedar Lane resident was not so lucky. Her home burned to the ground with her precious cats inside.
“I raised them from babies,” said Elise Sandusky, who was in the Bay Area with her husband when they got the MCAlert from the Sheriff’s Office. They raced toward home, only to discover that the road was closed and they had no way of knowing if their home had survived.
After looking at photos taken by this reporter, Elise was devasted to discover that hers was one of the many that were lost to the flames on Cedar Drive. She and her husband began trying to figure out where they would go for the night, grieving the cats and the fact that they has just moved all their belongings into the house from their storage unit, and now all was lost.
Ruth McCrory and her husband Jay were also waiting at the road block for word of their home. Photos revealed that though nearly all of the homes on one side of Cedar Drive were destroyed, theirs at the corner of Cedar and Oak was still standing. Wayne Pipes’ purple house on Manzanita was also spared, though it was now pink from the retardant drops.
Residents and visitors to Bass Lake lined the north shore, watching as the flames crested the hill and began backing down the mountain to the shore along Road 222. Campgrounds, homes and cabins along the lake between Miller’s Landing and Recreation Point were evacuated next, and the road was closed at the Bass Lake Dam on the east, and Road 432 on the west.
Grasses along the shoreline began burning as the fire jumped across Road 222 just west of The Forks. It burned down to the water’s edge near the Pine Slope picnic area, about 1/8 mile to the west of the popular resort, and dozers worked into the evening to cut wide lines along that flank of the fire to stop it advancing any closer.
Six helicopters dipped water out of the lake, as nine air tankers, including the DC-10 (VLAT), laid down wide swaths of retardant along the flanks of the fire and across residential areas.
A pre-evacuation notice was issued to the World Mark, Slide Creek, Ridgeline and Cowboy Trail areas between Recreation Point and Road 432, but those have now been changed to advisories, and residents are allowed to return to their homes.
There are currently 400 personnel assigned to the incident, with 30 fire engines, 11 fire crews, 14 bulldozers, and the aircraft that will return to the skies in the morning. No injuries have been reported.
Firefighters will work through the night to build and reinforce containment lines. There continues to be a threat to the Bass Lake Heights community.
Access in many areas is difficult due to steep terrain, and firefighters are experiencing extreme fire behavior conditions due to drought and low fuel moisture.
Residents should remain cautious of fire personnel and equipment working in the area.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Road 426 between Courtney Lane to Road 223
Road 222 between Road 432 (Recreation Point) and Road 426 (The Forks)
Road 426 between 222 and 223
Oakhurst Community Center remains open to evacuees and their pets.
North Fork Evacuation Center has been closed
Red Cross is advising that anyone affected by the Oakhurst fire should contact the Red Cross redcross.org/CentralValleyRegion or victims can call 559-455-1000.
Those evacuating large animals are being advised to take them to the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds (Bohna Arena), off Road 415 just south of Coasregold School. For those who need to shelter their animals there, please call 559-760-5577.
Cooperating Agencies: CAL FIRE, USFS, California Office of Emergency Services, Madera County Fire Department, Madera County Sheriff’s Department, PG&E, Red Cross, Sierra Telephone, CHP and Local Government Resources within the Central Valley.
We will update after the 7 a.m. morning briefing.