YOSEMITE LAKES PARK – For the second time in as many days, firefighters were called out to a blaze in the YLP area, this one dubbed the Lilley Mountain Fire.
At 3:07 p.m. on Sunday, May 19, Mariposa Command Center began dispatching engines, water tenders, dozers and crews to an area along Road 400, a mile south of Yosemite Springs Parkway. The huge plume of smoke was visible from all over the area.
Initial reports estimated the fire at around 10 acres, burning up the west side of Lilley Mountain. Engines first staged along Road 400 and began fire lines and hose lays.
According to a resident who was watching the fire from across the road, the area it was burning through was part of a 55-acre recreation area that is part of YLP.
The vegetation quickly burned off near Road 400, and with the wind gusting out of the northwest, the fire began moving quickly up the hill, toward homes on the other side.
More resources were called out, including 5 air tankers, 2 air attack, 3 helicopters, 9 more engines, 3 more water tenders, a second dozer and more ground crews.
At about 4 p.m., the CHP was called in to close Road 400 in both directions at the site of the fire.
Urged on by gusting winds and fed by dry grass and brush, the flames were now making their way into residential areas along Big River Way and Roaring River Court, threatening homes and outbuildings.
Residents began converging on Big River Way, where the smoke was thick and the road was clogged with fire vehicles trying to get to their assignments and keep ahead of the fire.
Soon the street was lined with the cars of homeowners desperate to rescue pets and horses as the flames moved closer.
Overhead, the sky buzzed with the sound of air tankers laying out ribbons of retardant, and helicopters dousing the fuels at the head of the fire.
The loud bangs of unknown items exploding peppered the air intermittently, as some packed things into their cars to prepare for evacuation.
At one point, the fire jumped across Big River Way and began burning in dry stubble towards a house on the opposite side of the road. However, the homeowners had cut the tall grass on their property, greatly slowing the rate of spread, and they quickly had the flames doused.
A Cal Fire dozer was then unloaded, and dropped off a steep hill to start cutting in a line, while crews continued to attack hot spots and work to contain the fire.
Josh Altmiller’s was the one home claimed by the fire, and though his family lost everything they own, he is grateful that his wife, his kids and his dogs are all safe.
Multiple outbuildings also burned to the ground, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief and Incident Commander Glenda Leonard.
“The wind is the main problem we face,” said Leonard. “The temperatures are relatively mild, but the wind is our worst enemy.”
Leonard estimated the fire at about 91 acres at 8 p.m. on Sunday, with 60% containment and some 200 personnel involved in the suppression efforts.
Firefighters will work throughout the night securing the area around homes and other structures.
Crews have been called in from Tuolomne-Calaveras, Fresno and Monterey.
Big River Way, Roaring River, and Lilley Mountain Road were closed for a time, but were re-open to residents at about 8:15 p.m.
Leonard says there is no estimate at this time for full containment.
No injuries have been reported, and the cause of the fire is under investigaton.
Resources include, but are not limited to: Cal Fire Engines #4285, 4295, 4284, 4279, 4255, 4275, 4245, 4282, 4270, 4370, 4371, 4368; Dozers 4271 and 4242; Water Tenders #13 and #17 (plus two more), Madera County Fire Dept. #8 Coarsegold, and #10 YLP; and Mt Bullion crews.