NORTH FORK — Residents of North Fork gathered for a community meeting tonight at the Mountain Christian Center in Oakhurst, to hear from fire officials about the progress being made on the Mission Fire, and when they might be allowed to return to their homes in the Cascadel area.
The fire is now estimated at 1,005 acres with 10 percent containment.
There are currently 730 personnel assigned to the incident including 93 engines, 10 hand crews, 11 dozers, 4 water tenders and air resources as available.
Damage assessment teams have been able to get in and have a look at the aftermath. They report four structures lost and four more damaged.
Crews made good progress today towards the heel of the fire and got dozer line in on Mission Road.
The left shoulder is burning into the old Willow Fire scar, providing a good place to stop it, since there is not much fuel.
On the perimeter map, fire officials say, the fire has actually pushed farther north than shown. The perimeter is actually up into the 8s09 road, and the road/fire line is holding. Crews are in there round the clock, including hand crews and engines, and there were a lot of helicopter and air tanker drops in that area today. (We will have an updated map after the morning briefing).
Engines were everywhere inside Cascadel and along the Heights today, putting out spot fires, protecting homes and strengthening lines. Fire officials say “we are not out of the woods yet” due to the very high potential for spotting – all it takes is just one spark.
One of the biggest challenges is the bottom right section of the fire. Dozers are not able to cut line there, so about 2,000 feet has to be done by hand crews.
Evacuees at the meeting tonight were concerned with the safety of their homes, after the burglaries committed during the Willow Fire. Sheriff Varney assured everyone that he has personnel working the roadblocks, along with CHP, deputies patrolling homes and making sure no one is in there who shouldn’t be.
“We are being very aggressive about this,” said Varney, “so if our deputies get a little testy with you…” He also said the fire has been declared a local emergency, and they’re talking with FEMA and applying for grants.
Anyone who needs to retrieve emergency items from their home was asked to talk to a deputy and see what can be worked out.
Power is out across the evacuated area.
A question about reimbursement for spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration was referred to an insurance agent in attendance who said people should check into their homeowner’s insurance.
Everyone was encouraged to please, be patient. When fire passes through an area hit this hard by tree mortality, it’s pretty much the final blow for dead trees still standing, and they begin to fall over. The danger is very real, and those hazards must be mitigated before the public can be allowed to return. The best and safest answer to the question when residents can return is “no longer than a week.”
Firefighters from Madera County Fire Station 11 in North Fork, Station 12 in Oakhurst, and Ahwahnee Station 16 were right in the heat of things, working to save a shop building and stop the fire from spreading and destroying the home next to it, and others in the path of the fire.
Station 11 Captain Augie Capuchino responded in Water Tender 11, Bob Kernaghan in WT 16, and Nancy and Harry Madowsky, Sr., in WT 8. Along with firefighters Steve Madowsky, Roy Bromfield, Jr., Steve Moua, Jared Slate and Rachel Rivera, they poured over 12,000 gallons of water on the structure, and managed to save the house.
Sadly, four other structures were lost in the first hours of the fire, but with the speed at which this fire moved, and the near-total drawdown of resources across the state, the fact that more weren’t destroyed is a testament to the work of those first at scene.
Amazingly enough, PG&E reported only five power poles in need of replacement, and crews were ready to head up the mountain by 7:30 this morning.
Many residents reported having sketchy cell service after the fire started. Cal Fire Public Information Officer Mike Smith has confirmed that indeed the Verizon cell tower – the big fake pine tree just to the left and up the hill from the Cascadel Woods arch – was indeed damaged.
However, the damage was cosmetic, in that now it just looks like a cell tower trying to disguise itself as a big pine tree. Also damaged was a backup generator. Everything has been repaired and people should be getting a good signal now.
Cascadel Woods, Cascadel Heights and all of Road 233 remain under a mandatory evacuation, and Road 233 is closed..
Douglas Ranger Station Road is also closed and evacuated.
Road 225 is closed from Douglas Ranger Station Road to Lark Lane. The north side of the road is evacuated.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation advisory for Benedict Meadow. This includes road 7S07. Sheriff deputies will be patrolling the area to notify local campers of the evacuation advisory.
An incident information line has been set up at 1-844-668-3473.
The Mission Fire started on Sunday, Sept. 3, just after 1 p.m.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.