OAKHURST – The scene in the Bass Lake Heights neighborhood is one of devastation after the Courtney Fire roared through Sunday afternoon.
The 320-acre blaze moved quickly through the narrow streets of Pine, Oak, Cedar, Manzanita and Balsam Drives, and along Road 426 as it raced toward Bass Lake, destroying 21 structures.
Firefighters did, however, manage to save many of the homes in the area, though residents who have been evacuated are not being allowed to return to their homes at this time, as the fire is still active and firefighters are still working to protect homes.
Dozers, crew buggies, water tenders and engines, PG&E and Sierra Tel – all need safe and clear access to do their jobs. The area is also dangerous at this point, with burned out trees, scorched propane tanks and smouldering terrain.
Road blocks are in place at Robin’s Crest on Road 426 on the Oakhurst side, and at Hidden Meadow Road just south of the Forks Turnoff on the North Fork side.
The Bohna Arena in Coarsegold is once again the center of activity, as the second fire camp of the season has been set up to support the firefighters on the lines.
At the morning briefing, command staff reminded the troops of the extreme fire behavior, as evidenced by the fact that the fire went from ignition to jumping Road 426 in less than an hour.
They described 150 foot flame lengths as the fire raced down toward Bass Lake, spotting out ahead of itself as much as a quarter-mile.
Fireline has been established around the entire perimeter, but the 20% containment noted this morning is only that part of the line that is considered secure.
The focus for today is to ensure that no more structures are lost and to strengthen the firelines. Crews will do patrol and mopup where conditions allow, and continue to stage around structures for protection.
Air operations will include one Air Attack, four air tankers, three Type1 helicopters, three Type 2’s, and one for recon.
Incident Commander Rich Drozen warned of the serious drought conditions, saying that never, since records have been kept, have we experienced such critically dry conditions. He also noted that weather today would be as bad or worse than yesterday for firefighting efforts.
“We have all the potential we had yesterday, if not more,” said Drozen. “Our mission today is to hold this fire where it’s at.”
He also warned that, with all the other fires in the region, they would be competing for resources.
“Our ability to hold on to the resources we have is not assured,” said Drozen. “We won’t be able to just order up more equipment; we may just have to get it done with the resources we have.”
Firefighters are continuing to build and reinforce containment lines, and there is still a threat to the Bass Lake Heights community. Access to the fire is difficult due to steep terrain and several structures in the Wildland Urban Interface. Firefighters are experiencing extreme fire behavior conditions due to drought and low fuel moisture.
A damage assessment team will be arriving at about noon today to begin the process of determining what has been damaged or destroyed by the fire.
Approximately 300 structures have been evacuated, affecting about 900 residents living in the Northern part of Oakhurst and a section Bass Lake near Road 222, according to Cal Fire.
Residents should remain cautious of fire personnel and equipment working in the area, and traveling to and from the firelines.
Some residents in unaffected areas of the fire have been allowed to return home.
Anyone affected by the Courtney Fire, who may have emergency/medical needs, is advised to go to the Madera County Sheriff’s Substation located at 48267 Liberty Drive in Oakhurst. Deputies are prepared to assist.
Road 426 between Courtney Lane to Road 223 (The Forks Turnoff)
Road 222 between Road 432 (Recreation Point) and Road 426
Road 426 between 222 and 223
Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425B
Cooperating Agencies include CAL FIRE, USFS, CAL OES, Madera County Fire Department, Madera County Sheriff’s Department, PG&E, Red Cross, Sierra Telephone, CHP, Hillview Water District, and Local Government Resources within the Central Valley.
Additional Information: Residents who need more information can go to www.fire.ca.gov or contact the Courtney Fire Information Line at 209-966-4784.
Cal Fire will be issuing an update mid-afternoon, and we will post it just as soon as it becomes available.