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Ferguson Fire from Rancheria Flat El Portal - photo by Dustin Garrison

Officials Talk To Packed House About Ferguson Fire, Now Over 13,000 Acres

MARIPOSA COUNTY – It was standing room only as nearly 300 residents turned out to hear from Ferguson Fire officials about what’s happening, what to expect next, and have their questions answered.

But before the meeting, fire managers at the ICP discussed the day’s activity on the fireline at the evening briefing.

The fire has grown to 13,082 acres with 5 percent containment. We will have new maps after tonight’s flyover.

Heavy smoke throughout the morning hours again today prevented air resources from joining the firefight until late afternoon. Just before 9:30 a.m., Air Attack reported he wasn’t able to see anything, and at 11 a.m. reported one-quarter-mile visibility.

The fire continued to back down into Sweetwater Creek on the north but did not cross the creek or threaten Sweetwater ridge. It continued to move out to the north along Ferguson Ridge and down along Highway 140 where there is quite a bit of fire along the road.

For firefighter safety, the lane of Highway 140 closest to the mountain has been coned off as rocks and debris crash down from the steep slopes.

Hot Shots working near Cedar Lodge report that they will have fire around the lodge by this evening, and they are continuing structure protection.

The fire is now fairly well-established in the Coldwater Creek drainage up near El Portal, where it’s continuing to move slowly north, backing down the steep mountainsides.

Crews constructed about a quarter-mile of indirect hand line from the Merced River up towards Henness Ridge today. The dozer line below the community of Yosemite West was also improved, and they will work to clean that up by tomorrow. Structure protection continues, and there has been no evacuation order for this area.

Just east of Mariposa Pines, the fire is fairly well-established in Skelton Creek and has crossed the creek to within a quarter-mile of the contingency dozer line. Dozers pushed a six-blade wide line from Skelton Creek down towards Darrah, about a mile down toward Roundtree saddle, said fire managers.

North of Mariposa Pines along Snyder Ridge the fire “backed down nicely all day long.” There are still a few unburned sections inside the dozer lines, and the night shift may do a bit of burning in there tonight, but didn’t want to put any extra heat in there during the day.

With completed dozer line across to Nutmeg Gulch and over to Feliciana, they have it “just about blocked off.”

At tonight’s meeting fire officials explained to concerned residents about the “big box.” On a fire of any size, they create a box on the four sides of the fire, and then work their plan to contain it within those boundaries.

When asked by a resident how large this fire would get, fire officials showed it on the map and indicated the boundaries of the big box — hold the fire south of Highway 140, east of Sweetwater Ridge, north of Mariposa Pines and Jerseydale, and west of Henness Branch. That drew a murmur from the crowd as there seemed to be a lot of space between the fire’s edge shown on the map and the east side of the box.

“That’s the worse case scenario,” was the response from officials. “We are doing everything we can to tighten it up in this area.” The area referred to was the 2-1/2 to 3 miles between the east edge of the fire and the community of Yosemite West.

“There are a lot of things out there named ‘devil.’ And the old-timers named it that for a reason. It’s very steep, it’s rocky and it’s really dangerous for firefighters to get in there and work. There’s no egress. Also, it’s hot. They’re wearing full gear, long sleeves, helmets and gloves, carrying 45 pound packs, in 100 degree weather.” Those conditions are exacerbated by the lack of air support until late in the day.

Officials expect things to change tomorrow, weather-wise, which will allow them to really attack that eastern perimeter. However it will be a mixed blessing. An unstable air mass will likely move the inversion out and allow aircraft to attack directly in that rugged, inaccessible terrain. But it will also put more air on the fire.

With the Ferguson Fire one of the largest burning in California right now, resource orders are being filled. According to Air Operations, there will be eight Type 1 and six Type 2 helicopters over the fire tomorrow, along with VLATS which can put down 20,000 gallons of retardant.

Also tomorrow comes the possibility of thunderstorm development, which could give the fire the ventilation it needs to pick up steam.

Someone at tonight’s meeting asked if they should be worried if they see fire engines driving through their neighborhood.

“We use a lot of different tactical tools to plan for any eventuality,” was the answer. “If you see fire personnel out there, they’re gathering intel so we can build a good strategy, a good plan, and use the right tactical tools when the time comes, whether it’s engines, dozers, crews or aircraft.”

Someone wanted to know if they would be doing burning operations in Ponderosa Basin.

“It’s a possibility,” was the answer. “That’s why we’re putting in these contingency lines. And we want to burn on our terms, under controlled conditions. Will we fire it off? Probably. If that’s what we need to do.”

There was a question about ingress and egress onto larger properties and ranches.

“If you have livestock and you’re leaving, call the Sheriff’s Office at 209-966-3615 and communicate with the Animal Control Unit,” said Sheriff Doug Binnewies. “More information from you will help us in discussing if we need to assist, and how we can help evacuate livestock if necessary, or if you need to feed and water. We may be able to arrange for armed law enforcement officers to escort you and stay with you while you take care of business.”

The Sheriff says sometimes they have to prioritize those requests, and sometimes they don’t have the staff to assist, “but we’ll work with you as best we can. As a result of the Detwiler Fire we’ve increased our staff, we have our Posse, and we’ve purchased equipment to help transport stock.”

So what about security? Residents were advised to “lock your house, close your drapes, leave an outside light on, but leave the gate unlocked. Otherwise Fire will just have to cut your locks.”

At last came the question that always seems to be asked in any community meeting concerning a large fire – “Are you just letting this burn, or are you trying to put it out?”

“We have over 1,800 firefighters, a large number of Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters, VLATS, and a mobile retardant base. We’ve ramped it up and are bringing in a Type 1 team to fight this fire.” Yes, they’re doing their best to put it out.

Officials stayed after the questions wrapped up so that citizens could speak directly with them and express their more specific concerns. There will be another community meeting tomorrow in El Portal at 4 p.m. at the El Portal Community Center.

There are currently 108 structures threatened by the Ferguson Fire including 70 homes, 3 commercial buildings and 35 outbuildings. So far no structures have been lost.

There were two injuries on the fireline today that required medical transport for what were reported to be leg injuries. Two other medical situations were heat-related. There has been one fatality on the fire.

Just after 1 p.m. today the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced that Yosemite West, El Portal, Foresta and Indian Flat were experiencing an extended power outage due to fire activity. At that time there was no estimated time for restoring power.

There are currently 1,850 personnel assigned to the incident including 158 engines, 44 crews, 16 dozers, 5 water tenders, 5 helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft as conditions allow.

The Incident Command Post for the Ferguson Fire is now at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park. Please be aware of heavy fire equipment moving through the area.

The fire is under Unified Command with Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.

The Ferguson Fire started on Friday, July 13, at 8:30 p.m. The cause remains under investigation.

Evacuations

Mandatory evacuations are in place for:

  • Savage Trading Post
  • Redbud Lodge
  • Cedar Lodge
  • Indian Flat Campground
  • Mariposa Pines
  • Sweetwater Ridge
  • Ferguson Ridge
  • Jerseydale including all residences on Jerseydale Road, Hites Cove Road and all side roads from Triangle Road to the end of Hites Cove Road
  • Incline Road from Clearing House to the Foresta Bridge in El Portal
  • The BLM campgrounds in Briceburg are closed until further notice

Advisories have been issued for the following locations:

  • National Park Service El Portal Complex
  • Rancheria Flat – Government Housing
  • El Portal Trailer Court
  • Old El Portal
  • Lushmeadows Community
  • Ponderosa Basin Community
  • Triangle Road from Jerseydale Road to Highway 49 South including all side roads
  • Darrah Road from Triangle to Sherrod Road
  • East side of Highway 49S from Darrah Road to Harris Cutoff Road – This includes Boyer Road, Woodland Area, Wass Road and Tip Top Road
  • Yosemite West
These areas are NOT under a mandatory evacuation order. This is an advisement only of a potential evacuation order should conditions change.

Should these areas come under a mandatory evacuation order you will be notified via the Sheriff’s Office Emergency Alert System by text, email and a voice call, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, and door-to-door communication by Sheriff’s Office staff. At that time you will be notified of the best routes of travel to safely evacuate your residence.

A Red Cross Evacuation Center has been established at the New Life Christian Church located at 5089 Cole Road in Mariposa. If you have been evacuated due to the Ferguson Fire, the Sheriff’s Office asks that you please check in with the Red Cross Shelter even if you do not plan to stay there.

If you are in a Mandatory Evacuation or Advisory Area and may require assistance with evacuation transportation due to special needs or medical issues, please contact Human Services toll free at 1-833-423-0816 as soon as possible.

Planning ahead will help with a safe and timely evacuation.

Animal Evacuation Centers

Small Animal Shelter is at SPCA of Mariposa County, 5599 Highway 49 in Mariposa.

Large Animal Shelter is at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, 5007 Fairgrounds Road in Mariposa.

Road Closures

Highway 140 is closed from Abbie Road in El Portal to 14 miles north of Mariposa.

Also closed are Jerseydale Road, Hites Cove Road and all side roads from Triangle Road to the end of Hites Cove Road; River Road from Briceburg to the gate at Railroad Flat and all campground areas are closed; Hites Cove Road from Bear Clover Road to the Merced River.

Cooperating Agencies include the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, CAL OES, California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, American Red Cross, National Weather Service, California Conservation Corps, BLM and additional agencies throughout the state.

Maps below are from this morning.

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