NORTH FORK — Just a few days after the one-year anniversary of the start of the Willow Fire, that scorched over 5,700 acres near North Fork last summer, residents were put on edge once again as a fast-moving fire threatened over 200 homes.
Just before 6 p.m., reports began coming in of a structure fire in the Old Mill Housing on Road 225 in South Fork. By the time the first engines arrived at scene, one building was fully engulfed, and another plus a trailer were beginning to burn.
Sheriff’s deputies, CHP and Citizens on Patrol responded to what was dubbed The Fork Fire to set up roadblocks, as helicopters and air tankers began arriving overhead. Residents of the Mill Housing were told to evacuate.
The fire burned with such intensity that power lines overhead began arcing and sparking, and small explosions could be heard every few minutes, and the fence surrounding the house was melted. A car parked nearby also caught fire, sending up a huge fireball as the gas in the tank exploded. Trees began torching, and the fire moved up the hill behind the house, and toward Road 225.
Firefighters raced back to their engines to change from structure fire to wildland fire gear.
Within about 20 minutes, the fire had jumped Road 225 and spot fires began taking off on the north side of the road, burning between Douglas Ranger Station Road and Cascadel Road (Road 233). Sheriff’s deputies began going door-to-door along both roads telling people to evacuate, and roadblocks were set up at Road 274 and Cascadel, shutting down Road 225 to allow safe clear access for the fire equipment that continued to arrive.
Deputies moved all the boats away from the dam at Bass Lake to give three helicopters a clear dipping spot, as six air tankers laid down a huge pink swath of retardant along the leading edge of the fire as it moved up the hill toward the homes on the west side of Cascadel Drive.
The Sheriff’s Office then ordered the evacuation of Wakova Lane, Road 230, De Na Lane, Tu Nobi Way and Poy Ah Now Road, bringing the number of households displaced to about 200.
A Red Cross Shelter was established at Yosemite Lakes Park Church, and the North Fork Rancheria sent vans out to help tribal citizens evacuate. The Tribe opened a shelter at the Rancheria Community Center above North Fork.
A command post was set up in the parking lot of the TANF Building, and once again, the old mill compound became host to a quickly growing fire camp.
By 7:40 p.m., the Incident Commander reported that the forward progress of the fire had been stopped. However, the fire is far from out. There is currently 20 percent containment at an estimated 38.4 acres, and crews continue to work through the night. More resource are arriving at the Command Post, including the Kings River Hotshots and a Strike Team from Kern County. Some engines en route to the Fork Fire were diverted to cover stations left unmanned when their engines were dispatched.
Amazingly enough, no homes were lost other than the group of structures where the fire started.
Road 225 will be closed between Road 274 and Cascadel Road through the night.
All off-duty sheriff’s deputies have been call in to work tonight, and the Sheriff’s Office has also requested mutual aid for additional law enforcement security to patrol evacuated homes. There will be zero tolerance tonight in evacuation zones, and any persons located off their own property or in public areas will be arrested and booked.