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Photo by Denise Bryant

Floodwaters Float Yurts Down Fresno River

Yurts at High Sierra RV on Monday, Feb. 7, 2017 about 1 p.m. (Melissa Housmyer)

OAKHURST — The last thing you’d expect to see floating down the usually languid Fresno River is a gorgeous yurt, complete with all the contents needed for a comfortable stay. Today, there were two.

Click on images to enlarge.

It started out as a normal rainy day at High Sierra RV Park in Oakhurst, beautifully situated on the river just north of Road 426. After lunchtime, the situation changed rapidly and drastically, according to manager Kathy Frye.

“The yurts have been here for years, but today the river came up so quickly, we had little time to react,” says Kathy. “Within an hour-and-a-half, what was a small puddle turned into flooding. It flooded some of the campground a few weeks back, but it never came close to the yurts; at that time, it stayed 15 or 20 feet away.”

Nothing could be done as the yurts floated downstream (Melissa Housmyer)

Not so, this day. As the river surged, the structures were lifted off their foundations and floated quickly downstream.

“This was unexpected,” Kathy says, adding that people were evacuated from the lower areas of the vicinity across from the Boys and Girls Club, said to be flooded, as well.

“The water took out the first yurt in site number six, pulling it off the pedestal area, but the deck was still there. Then the second one went. We couldn’t even get to it, the river was so high.”

Like houseboats, the yurts sailed atop the water until coming to an abrupt stop at the bridge on Road 426. As the force of the flow continued to pummel the structures, they collapsed into pieces, leaving their contents strewn about the water, on the shore, and under the bridge.

(Melissa Denny)

Stunned onlookers gathered around the bridge, umbrellas in hand, braving the rain while watching the unanticipated show.

The yurts, valued at over $8,000 each without their contents, were filled with furniture and accessories. They were made of vinyl with hardwood, and insulation of the type used by NASA, says Kathy.

“Bunk beds, double beds, day beds, microwave, refrigerator, television, coffee pots, everything you can imagine was in there. Blankets, pillows, mattresses, you name it.”

As the catastrophe took shape, emergency crews began to respond, including Madera County Sheriff’s deputies, and CHP, and volunteers from both agencies.

Also on hand were representatives from Hillview Water, which has a pipe in the river near the bridge.

Debris after the yurts collapsed (Kellie Flanagan)

Sierra Tel sent out a backhoe and other equipment, with a request for County workers to operate the machinery. Crews from Caltrans, county roads, and PG&E were all there to lend a hand while debris was plucked from the water so the river could continue its rapid flow unimpeded.

Some overnight campers with a rented RV from El Monte were happily unaware, in Yosemite on a Discover Yosemite tour, as their vehicle was towed from the path of the fast-flowing water by Northstar Towing in Oakhurst.

All hands on deck (Kellie Flanagan)

“We could not communicate with them directly, so Discover Yosemite was getting a message to them,” says High Sierra’s Melissa Housmyer. “The water was rising faster than their anticipated arrival back to the RV park, so I called for tow help.”

Doc’s dispatched a truck from Northstar Towing. It’s possible the RV could have taken out the bridge at Road 426, Kathy says, had evasive action not been taken, to the tune of $450. Negotiations are underway to determine who is responsible for that towing fee.

A motorhome, nearly stranded, was able to pull out of the park without help.

This RV was towed before it, too, was taken down the river (Melissa Housmyer)

Sweethearts were booked into the yurts for Valentine’s Day, according to High Sierra, and they’ll be getting or may have already gotten phone calls alerting them that their reservations will need to be rescheduled due to floating yurts.

In the meantime, no one was hurt, and High Sierra RV hopes to be up and running full speed again in the next week or so, river view included.

(Melissa Housmyer)

(Melissa Housmyer)

 

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