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Road work ahead sign on Railroad Fire - photo Mariposa County Sheriff

Hot Temps And Low Humidity Challenges Crews On The Railroad Fire

FISH CAMP — In a surreal juxtaposition of fire, rain, lightning and smoke, the management team on the Railroad Fire gathered at Batterson Work Station at 6 a.m. to go over the day’s objectives and operations plans.

With more accurate overnight mapping, the fire is now estimated at 920 acres with 5 percent containment.

There are currently 350 personnel assigned to the incident including 26 engines, 7 hand crews, 6 dozers, 2 helicopters and 3 air tankers, with more resources arriving and even more on order.

Seven structures have been destroyed, and about 100 more are threatened.

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, the Narrow Gauge Inn, the Tenaya Lodge, and the communities of Fish Camp and Sugar Pine have not suffered any damage.

Dozer lines on the southwest perimeter of the fire held overnight, while several spot fires were dealt with on the northeast, just south of Jackson Road.

Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s today, with humidity extremely low — between 18 and 23 percent.

Afternoon winds are forcasted to be upslope at 3 – 6 mph with gusts from 6 – 10 mph out of the southwest, pushing the fire towards Fish Camp.

Fire officials expect huge vertical growth if the fire gets into heavy fuel this afternoon.

With the live fuel moisture at critical levels, combined with the massive tree mortality, the situation is expected to be volatile.

Rocks in the road on Highway 41 Railroad Fire – photo by Gina Clugston

The greatest danger for firefighters is the amount of dead trees. A trip up Highway 41 to the heart of the Railroad Fire yesterday made it very clear that the roadway is not just closed so fire trucks can get through – it’s closed because it’s extremely dangerous. The noise in the middle of the fire is not just from the aircraft and the engines, it’s from the trees exploding, snapping off and falling over.

Once the vegetation has been burned away, large boulders are being released from the steep hillsides and are crashing down into the roadway. The near-zero visibility in some areas creates even more hazards as those boulders can’t be seen until one is right on top of them.

Caltrans will be patrolling the roadway to find those hazards and remove them.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team will take over the fire later today. An Incident Command Post will be set up, likely at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park.

Highway 41 will not open today, and all evacuations will remain in place. Visitors who were evacuated from the Tenaya Lodge who need to return to retrieve their belongings can meet at the Highway 41 road closure in Wawona to be escorted to the hotel at 10 a.m. today. This is for hotel guests ONLY.

Closures include Highway 41 and all offshoots between Cedar Valley Road and Summerdale Campground in both Madera County and Mariposa County, and Road 630 (Sugar Pine Road) and all cross streets, including Sugar Pine Christian Camps.

The road closure on Highway 41 northbound is at Cedar Valley about three miles north of Oakhurst. The road is closed to southbound traffic inside Yosemite National Park at Wawona.

A mandatory evacuation is in place for the the community of Fish Camp, the Tenaya Lodge, the Narrow Gauge Inn, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, the community of Sugar Pine including the Christian camp, and all homes and businesses in the immediate vicinity. Evacuations run north from Fish Camp to the Summerdale Campground.

The community of Wawona – which is still dealing with a recent evacuation from the South Fork Fire – is also being warned of the possible threat potential from this fire. Residents and visitors are encouraged to make appropriate pre-evacuation preparations.

A Red Cross evacuation center has been established at the Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425B. A second shelter is in Yosemite National Park at the Valley Visitors Center at 9035 Village Drive.

The Central California Animal Disaster Team is on standby to assist the Madera County Sheriff’s Office/ Animal Control with animal evacuation and emergency animal sheltering if needed.

All roads past Wawona inside Yosemite are open, except Glacier Point Road, which was closed on Sunday due to increased fire activity on the Empire Fire.

For fire updates, residents and visitors can message RAILROADFIRE (one word) to 888777.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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