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Intense Fire Behavior As Railroad Fire Spots Across Hwy 41

FISH CAMP — Erratic wind events, numerous spot fires, and limited air resources presented challenges for firefighters today on the Railroad Fire.

The fire is now estimated at 1,200 acres with 5 percent containment. However those numbers are estimates and will change after tonight’s flyover.

As of this morning, there were 350 personnel assigned to the incident including 26 engines, 7 hand crews, 6 dozers, 2 helicopters and 3 air tankers. Again, those numbers have not yet been updated and there are more resources assigned. Today was a transition day as the local management team turned over operations to the South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team, and we will get updated numbers in the morning.

Cal Fire MMU sent two strike teams (5 engines per team) to the fire this afternoon, and more resources are on order.

The day started out with unexpected weather as the thunderstorms in the early morning hours had not been in the forecast.

After the light rain stopped and temperatures began to rise about 8 a.m., fire activity increased, especially on the north and east along the 6S07 Road (Jackson Road – see map below) near the Tenaya Lodge.

Sheriff’s deputies evacuated everyone on Jackson Road from Highway 41 to Fresno Dome, including Big Sandy and Little Sandy campgrounds, which were largely empty. They also ran security patrols to ensure that no one entered the evacuated areas, and that no one had been left behind.

Winds in the morning hours also increased fire activity on the southwestern flank. The fire jumped the line and with spot fires everywhere, crews were forced to fall back and pull out of the area; it was just too dangerous..

When afternoon winds kicked up, more spot fires were reported, including one about 40 acres just east of Fish Camp.

As is usually the case with fires in our area, dense smoke kept air tankers grounded throughout the morning, though helicopters got in some good bucket work as crews strengthened lines and did structure protection in the community of Fish Camp.

By about 1 p.m., conditions had cleared enough to allow air tankers to get busy with some serious work, especially in the north and east sections where spot fires were a problem, increasing the threat to the Tenaya Lodge. However at about 2:30 p.m. the VLAT was diverted to a fire near Reno, Nev.

Just after 3 p.m. a major shift in the wind blew the fire south and east near Westfall Ranger Station. Within a matter of minutes, the fire had completely surrounded the structures and began torching off trees, and spraying embers. As the wind swirled it shot sparks across the road, turned the sky orange, and ignited the forest on the east side of Highway 41.

“It was raining fire,” said Incident Commander Deron Mills at tonight’s briefing. “Almost all the embers coming out of that column were taking.”

Firefighters got to work in the dense smoke and stifling heat to protect the station from the fire storm, as a helicopter started bucket drops on the new fires.

Amazingly enough, Mills reported that all the spot fires on the east side of the road were handled.

By 4:30 p.m., crews had their hands full dealing with more spot fires on the east side of Highway 41, these near the community of Sugar Pine as the wind pushed the fire south and east. Again, firefighters got busy cutting line and using water where possible.

The Kings River crews spent the day holding the line on Forest Road 6S07 (Jackson Road), and other crews will do the same overnight.

Dozers will be working throughout the night to carve out contingency lines across the northeast portion of the fire, across to Forest Road 5S43 north of the Tenaya Lodge, and back out to Highway 41.

Crews will continue to assess and patrol structures and hit spot fires, including the one just reported at 8:09 p.m. behind the Tenaya Lodge.

Seven structures have been destroyed, most of them just north of the Narrow Gauge Inn on the east side of the road. About 100 more are threatened. We have been told that a barn on the Yosemite Springs Ranch has also been lost.

Weather will continue to be challenging, with a strong high pressure system over the region, very hot and dry conditions, with poor overnight humidity recoveries. It is expected to only get down into the mid 70s overnight, and push up toward 102 degrees during the day.

The South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team took over operation of the Railroad Fire at 6 p.m. this evening. This is the same team that successfully managed the South Fork Fire and protected the community of Wawona earlier this month. It is headed up by Deron Mills, who is also the Deputy Fire Chief in Yosemite.

Work is already underway at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park to set up the “little city” that is the Incident Command Post on a fire like this one.

Residents should be very aware that large equipment will be moving along the roadway between Ahwahnee and Fish Camp, and if you see one big engine coming, there are likely going to be four more, as they travel in strike teams of five.

There will be a community meeting Thursday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. at the Oakhurst Community Center. The South Central Interagency Incident Management Team will be present to give an update on the Railroad Fire and answer questions from the public.

Road 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 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 will activate a small animal shelter at the Oakhurst Community Center Pavillion Building by 4 p.m. today. Small animals can also be sheltered at the Mariposa SPCA, 5599 Highway 49 in Mariposa. The phone number is 209-966-5275. Large animals can be sheltered at the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds, at 44777 Rodeo Grounds Lane in Coarsegold. The phone number is 559-676-7864.

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 Railroad Fire was reported at 12:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29, just south of the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad on the west side of Highway 41.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

(Photos by Gina Clugston)

The map below does not reflect the late afternoon activity near Westfall and Sugar Pine.




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