MARIPOSA COUNTY – As fire management personnel gathered for the morning briefing at the Mariposa County Fairground’s Incident Command Post, they were optimistic yet cautious about fire conditions today.
Crews achieved 25% containment overnight on the 300 acre fire, burning northeast from the William Sell bridge on Highway 49.
There was a heavy layer of smoke blanketing the Chowchilla River canyon this morning, as Cal Trans and CHP continued to pilot traffic through the area one lane at a time. Traffic control ended at noon on Saturday, and both lanes are now open.
There are hundreds of trucks, engines, water tenders, dozers and crew buggies using Highway 49 as they come in off the line, or head out to their assignments, and motorists need to be aware.
Much of the interior of the fireline has not burned, and crews were cautioned to watch for spot fires and flareups as temperatures rise and winds pick up later in the day. There are still a lot of very hot areas and burning snags in the interior, along with plenty of fuel.
Fire officials are most concerned about Division H, which is the area on the northeast perimeter between Ponderosa Court and Oak Leaf Lane. That will be a priority for aircraft today, as ember casts were a problem there yesterday.
Everyone was reminded that though the fire has settled down, and hose lays, hand lines and dozer lines are in place, there is still a significant potential, and “this fire is far from being out.”
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Several spot fires were located outside the perimeter, and those locations will be mapped on GPS, and lines put around them.
Incident Commander Kevin Smith said that this scenario – a fire under the bridge headed for Ponderosa Basin – was part of training several years ago. He also noted that the DC-10 was their “best friend” yesterday, laying 100,000 gallons of retardant on the right flank, significantly slowing the fire, and allowing ground crews to make good progress in the area.
The fire is burning at a moderate rate of spread, though steep terrain and very low moisture content in the fuels has been a challenge for firefighters.
All the air tankers have now been released from the incident, but two helicopters continue to work where needed.
Cal Fire Unit Chief Nancy Koerperich thanked everyone for their extra long hours, and said that this was a very emotionally significant event for the several hundred homeowners in the basin.
Firefighters will continue to improve and strengthen containment lines today, and do mop-up at least 100 feet inside the perimeter, 200 to 300 feet where possible.
A trip up Harris Road showed encouraging signs, with all homes still standing, and crews staged around structures to provide protection. Most of the road is still lined with green trees, and the blackened areas are being monitored by firefighters.
The burn area stops where the pavement starts, headed in to Ponderosa Basin, where everything is intact. There were several deer happily munching the shrubbery at one home where no one was there to shoo them away. They didn’t seem at all bothered by all the big engines rolling by.
The Mariposa Fairgrounds is bustling with activity as crews from all over the state prepare for their assignments. Mt. Bullion camp is being utilized for dinner and sleeping accommodations.
Smith acknowledged that some of the crews had traveled through the night to get there, but encouraged everyone to “be diligent, put in a hard day’s effort, and let’s turn the corner on this thing and get these folks back into their homes as soon as possible.”
About 50 residents checked in at the Red Cross Shelter at the New Life Christian Church in Bootjack last night, and about 30 stayed through the night.
Cal Fire is in Unified Command with the Mariposa County Fire Department and Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.
Cooperating Agencies include Cal Fire the U.S. Forest Service, the California Office of Emergency Services, Mariposa County Fire Department, Merced County Fire Department, Madera County Fire Department, Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department, Madera County Sheriff’s Office, PG&E, the Red Cross, the CHP and local government resources within the Central Valley.
There are 91 engines, 22 bulldozers, 22 fire crews and 2 helicopters currently assigned to the incident, for a total of 746 personnel.
Residents of Mariposa County are urged to register for the Sheriff’s emergency alert system. Click here to sign up.
Madera County residents can register at MCAlert.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. One injury has been reported.
No estimated time has been given for residents to return to their homes.
We will update as more information becomes available.
Recorded updates are available from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office at 209-966-1133.