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Railroad Fire Continues To Grow, More Evacuations And Warnings

FISH CAMP — After a night of very active fire behavior, crews had their work cut out for them today on the Railroad Fire, especially in the northeast section.

A heavy layer of smoke once again blanketed the area, but by about 11 a.m. the inversion had lifted on the south, and temperatures were headed to triple digits and winds picked up. Gusts of up to 20 mph were forecast on the ridgetops.

Smoke on Speckerman Mountain – photo by Dale Clugston

A major plume of smoke became visible at about 2 p.m. this afternoon. This shot is taken from Highway 41 south of Westfall. Speckerman Mountain is east-northeast of Sugar Pine.

At 2:40 p.m., a mandatory evacuation order was issued for Big Sandy Campground. The area of Sky Ranch is under an evacuation advisory at this time.

Sheriff’s deputies also headed out to Soquel and Texas Flat campgrounds to advise anyone there to be aware of the danger and be ready to evacuate if necessary.

At 3 p.m., the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office advised that there has been a lot of smoke and fire activity in the Fish Camp area today, but that there is no imminent danger to the Ponderosa Basin.

The fire is also reportedly moving northwest toward Hogan Mountain.

Once again, fire managers were not able to get all the air resources they requested, due to the number of wildfires burning across the region.

We will get more details on the fire activity and estimated acreage during the 6 p.m. briefing and later at the community meeting, and will post another update by 9 p.m. The Incident Management Team will be talking about the fire and answering questions from the public at the Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425B at 7 p.m.

A drive up Highway 41 to Fish Camp will give you a look at some of the areas people are asking about. The first signs of fire activity was near Westfall Ranger Station, where a fire storm ignited the forest on the east side of the road yesterday. All structures are still standing, thanks to some incredible work by firefighters in extreme conditions. The forest across the road is completely burned.

A stop in at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad confirmed that everything is still intact, save for the equipment on the siding that was damaged by the fire last night. The hope is that repairs can salvage some of it.

The Narrow Gauge Inn is also untouched, though the forest floor on the opposite side of the road is ashes. The Sugar Pine Christian Camp has also been spared as of today.

Power lines have been de-energized along most of the route to ensure firefighters can work as safely as possible, and falling trees don’t land across power lines, causing even more problems.

Jeremiah Trygsland and Jonas Gonzalez – photo by Gina Clugston

A visit to the Tenaya Lodge led to a chance encounter with Jeremiah Trygsland, the manager of the water treatment plant for the facility. He and co-worker Jonas Gonzalez are making sure all systems are go in order to prove free access to their hydrants so that water tenders and engines can refill at will.

Trygsland says they are operating at 100 percent capacity.

Cal Fire MMU and OES Engines at Tenaya Lodge – photo by Gina Clugston

Engines from Cal Fire MMU and Cal OES are staged in the parking lot to provide structure protection to the large resort.

During a side trip down Jackson Road, the sound of chainsaws and helicopters pierced the smoky haze along the route, where the Kings River Hotshots have been working for two days to hold the fire to the south, along with the Fresno Four Crew.

Kings River Hot Shots – photo by Gina Clugston

Fresno Four Crew – photo by Gina Clugston

Several outbuildings have been destroyed at the Pack Station, but most survived as the fire came through.

All along the route there are contractors, PG&E crews, Forest Service law enforcement officers, Sheriff’s deputies, tree contractors, water tenders, fallers and dozer transports. It is a very busy place, and still very dangerous as drought- and now fire-weakened trees are a threat at every turn.

There are also caches of water and Gatorade at random spots along the road, as dehydration is one of the primary dangers to firefighters working in these conditions.

Our friend Donn Harter, chairman of the Fish Camp Volunteer Fire Association, provided this update to his neighbors who are evacuated:

Homes in Fish Camp have been protected from any immediate danger. The fire is still burning east, south and west of FC.

Smoke in the area is critical and Hwy 41 is closed to all but emergency vehicles. Seven homes east of Hwy 41 in Kane Ranch and Sugar Pine have been destroyed after the fire jumped Hwy 41 on Tuesday afternoon. In the FC area the corral, hay, and three snow mobiles were lost adjacent the Gateway House on the Mountain Ranch, but the house was saved.

Tuesday evening the heroic efforts of 40 members of the USFS Hot Shot team dug a cold line around the 11 homes west of Summit Road and back-fired into the oncoming fire. Cal Fire had engines at all residential sites. All were saved. Hot Shot members are patrolling Summit Road to spot and extinguish any embers jumping east of the road.

Wednesday, as the fire progressed up the Lewis Creek canyon toward the Tenaya, a successful stand was made at the waste treatment facility to save that structure and any advance to the lodge. The fire did advance up the south side of Big Creek and was stopped near the stables where some out buildings were destroyed.

Helicopters have been hitting the fire every 4 to 5 minutes during the daylight hours. We have no bombers, most likely because that are on Nevada and Oregon fires.

Electrical power has been off since 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

I have met with PG&E and their efforts to get into the Lewis Creek canyon to replaced burned poles has been thwarted by ground fire in the area. I have been in close contact with the Mariposa County Sheriff’s deputies, CHP, CDF, and USFS fire personnel.

Aspen and I are fine holding down the fort.

 

Most of Highway 41 between Westfall Ranger Station and the Cottages at the Tenaya Lodge looks like this photo, except for the aforementioned establishments and the homes that were saved by firefighters – which is most of them.

In some spots, the trees are torched and the ground is ash, and in others, the fire crept along the ground through bear clover and never crowned out.

There is a community meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425A. The Incident Management Team will talk to the public about the fire and answer their questions.

The Oakhurst Community Center is the location of the Red Cross Evacuation Center, and the Central California Animal Disaster Team has set up a small animal shelter.

 

 

 

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