SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST – The French Fire continues to ravage the forest on the Bass Lake Ranger District, growing overnight to 5,600 acres with 0% containment.
There are currently 536 personnel assigned to the incident, staging at the Old Mill Site in North Fork where a heliport has been set up with six helicopters and three additional on order.
Heavy smoke has kept air resources grounded until the mid-afternoon hours, slowing progress for firefighters and causing health concerns for residents.
A trip to the Incident Command Post in North Fork early this morning for the 0600 briefing was a bit like driving through coastal fog, with the additional discomfort of stinging eyes.
After everyone was brought up to speed on the day’s assignments and the overnight progress, such as could be made, a few claps of thunder were followed by a downpour that turned the camp into mud in a matter of minutes.
Some radio traffic from lookouts indicate there may have been some precipitation on the fire itself. It is not known if the gusting winds cleared out any of the smoke up on the mountain, but some lookouts checking in this morning reported zero visibility from their vantage points. They also noted some thunder and a few lightning strikes.
Reports from fire officials this morning have noted that fire crews have been able to establish an anchor point on the left flank of the south end of the fire in the San Joaquin River Drainage. This anchor point will support the operations of structure defense in the Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flat area.
Fire crews will continue to build containment lines on all sides of the fire using direct and indirect strategies. The fire is in steep and rugged terrain in the San Joaquin River drainage, which requires hand crews hiking in and being supported by helicopters and air tankers. That aerial support is limited in the hours they can fly, due to the inversion layer.
Thunderstorms are predicted over the higher elevations, which is also a safety concern for firefighters due to erratic winds associated with the weather system.
The French Fire actively burned all night producing large amounts of smoke, which impacted local communities. Smoke is typically greater in the morning and evening hours. Residents are advised to plan outdoor activities for times and places with low smoke levels. Up-slope breezes occur during the day, which will often take smoke into higher elevations. In the evening, these winds change direction and bring smoke down slope to lower elevations.
For more information about smoke impacts, please visit the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Districts website at http://www.valleyair.org/wildfires.htm
Structure defense in the Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flat area will continue to be the primary objective.
Several Forest Service and private campgrounds were evacuated yesterday for public safety concerns. Several summer homes in the Hogue Apple Ranch and Wagner’s Resort were also evacuated. The impacted residences were able to make arrangements to stay elsewhere and there was not a need to open any shelters. There are 34 structures threatened at this time.
-Forest Road 4S81 (Minarets Rd) between Arch Rock and Redinger Overlook.
-Forest Road 6S01 (Grizzly Rd) between Beasore Rd and Minarets Rd
Forest Campgrounds Closures: Fish Creek, Rock Creek, Soda Springs, Mile High, Lower Chiquito, Windy Point, Sweetwater, China Bar, Mammoth Pool and Placer.
The French Fire was reported at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, July 28, by Shuteye Lookout, and began between Fish Creek and Rock Creek Campgrounds, just across the San Joaquin River from last year’s Aspen Fire. Some of the contingency lines built by dozers last year are being utilized in the firefighting efforts.
(Click map to enlarge)