OAKHURST – The Junction Fire, which started just before 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 18, has burned more than 1,200 acres with 0% containment, and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents so far.
The fire was initially reported behind Capitol Pipe on Highway 49 in Oakhurst, at about 1/4 acre, and quickly spread through the bone-dry vegetation.
Road 425A was promptly evacuated as the new reports came in of 100 acres. Air resources, strike teams, water tenders and dozers were called in immediately as the Incident Commander recognized the potential for dangerously rapid spread.
By mid afternoon, the fire had reached the top of the ridge north of Highway 49, and was reported at 300 acres. Engines and other resources continued to pour into the area, including a DC10 air tanker.
As the fire began backing down the hill toward Highway 41, the Hodges Hill area was evacuated, and then the entire west side of Highway 41 between Road 426 and Road 222. But that wasn’t to going be enough.
The fire burned into the back of Oakhurst Rocks, destroying one building, then jumped the highway at Carquest, and began igniting large spot fires out ahead of itself all along the east side of the road, headed toward Lewis Creek.
Trees lit up like torches, shooting embers thousands of feet, igniting new fires. Black smoke boiled up as things other than vegetation burst into flame.
At one point, there was fear that the 30,000 gallon propane tanks at Suburban propane would be compromised, which was an eventuality no one wanted to contemplate.
Crews raced across town to the propane company, and began attacking that fire, which was spreading through the attic of the building.
Firefighters kept the tanks and surrounding area watered down and got the structure fire under control, removing the threat to the entire town should the tanks have been lost.
The whole area surrounding Suburban Propane was blackened and scorched as the fire raged though, and structures in that area were lost to the flames. Explosions could be heard across the valley every now and again, but none was from Suburban Propane.
The fire then continued its easterly march, spotting out ahead of itself, and it didn’t take long for the flames to jump across Lewis Creek and begin racing up Taylor Mountain.
The fire moved so quickly, resources would focus on one area, only to be presented with another massive threat moments later. All the time the fire raged, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office was sending out evacuation notices to business and residents on both sides of Highway 41 north of Road 426, John West Road, Jean Road East and West, Scott Road, Taylor Mountain, Road 620, and Hodges Hill. Residents in Cedar Valley, on the roads along Road 222, and on Road 632 have been alerted to be prepared.
CHP, Sheriff’s deputies and Citizens On Patrol closed Highway 41 southbound at Road 222 (the Mountain House/Bass Lake turnoff) and northbound at Winding Way. They began shutting down sections of Road 222 over Chepo Saddle, and rerouting traffic as the fire threatens at this hour, to come down the back side and into the Bass Lake area.
Road 222 is closed at Road 274 near the head of Bass Lake. Traffic is not being allowed across Chepo Saddle in either direction, from Highway 41 to Road 274. From Bass Lake, use Road 222 along the south shore, turn right at The Forks, and take Road 426 to get to Oakhurst or points south.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, all traffic heading into and out of Yosemite National Park cannot access by way of Highway 41. Motorist should use an alternate route; take Highway 140 through Mariposa. To reach Bass Lake, drivers should take Road 200 from Highway 41 to North Fork, then turn left on Road 274 to Bass Lake.
The evacuation center set up at the Oakhurst Community Center has been closed due to its proximity to the fire, and residents are asked to use the Coarsegold Community Center. The Red Cross has opened a second shelter at the YLP Community Church located on Patrick Avenue in Yosemite Lakes Park in Coarsegold. This shelter can hold up 150 (but no animals permitted).
Small animals can be taken to the Coarsegold Community Center where the Central California Animal Disaster Team has set up a shelter.
Resources from Cal Fire Madera/Mariposa/Merced Unit are on the fire, along with Madera County Fire Department and units from Fresno, Tulare and Tuolumne/Calaveras. Local government agencies are assisting with structure defense.
Several structures have been lost, including homes, but amazingly most of the town of Oakhurst has so far escaped what could have been a monumental disaster. But this is far from over. There is still fire in and around the town, and crews are still working to protect homes and businesses. And now it is headed over the mountain toward the Bass Lake area and neighborhoods above Oakhurst. This fire is by no means finished with its destruction.
Fire officials are meeting tonight to plan tomorrow’s attack, as crews continue working through the night building fireline and defending structures. Helicopters and air tankers will be back in the skies in the morning.
Everyone is urged to remain on alert and be prepared to evacuate. To register for notices concerning evacuations, be sure to register at MCAlert. You will receive a phone call, text or email from the Sheriff’s Office should your neighborhood be threatened.
There are an estimated 500 personnel assigned to the incident, and two injuries have been reported.