NORTH FORK – It was a full house for a Town Hall meeting this afternoon as fire officials shared the latest updates on the Willow Fire, and answered questions from residents.
Incident Commander David Cooper and his team hosted the meeting, explaining the firing operation currently underway, and making educated predictions on when evacuated residents might be allowed to return to their homes.
If all goes as planned, the weather cooperates, and the firelines to the east of Douglas Ranger Station Road and to the west of Cascadel Road are considered secure and mop-up is underway, officials will coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office and consider recommending re-population. Cooper estimates that may happen some time on Monday at the earliest.
Officials will be acting out of an abundance of caution, as no one wants to send residents back in too soon and then have to re-evacuate. There will be a system in place when residents are allowed to return, that will address issues such as relighting pilot lights, turning propane or power back on that may have been turned off by homeowners leaving or by firefighters. That information will be posted here as soon as it is available.
Cooper says most of the activity and smoke over the last few days has been due to firing operations as crews burn out vegetation inside control lines.
In answer to a question about fire near Douglas Ranger Station Road, he explained that the fire didn’t actually reach the road. Crews went in and did work around the structures such as cutting fireline and removing vegetation, and as the fire comes to them, they will take it back to the north and into the area of origin which is, of course, already burned out.
They did do burnouts on the dozer line that runs from Cascadel Woods, down along the end of Peckinpah Acres Drive, and on toward the mill site.
Referring to the fire map, it was explained to the crowd that the black lines are secure firelines, and the red ones indicate those that still need work (see map below). It will likely be a day or two before those lines along Douglas Ranger Station and Cascadel can be called “black,” and probably two weeks before the fire will be called totally contained.
Enthusiastic and grateful applause greeted the reminder that no structures have been lost, and everyone got a good laugh when someone asked if the firefighters could water her garden. (Well they do have those hoses and those trucks full of water).
Trina from the Red Cross Evacuation Shelter at the Oakhurst Community Center invited anyone who is sheltering with a friend or relative to come by the Center for meals and entertainment. She said just because you aren’t staying there doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome to take advantage of the services they offer.
Cooper said his team (The South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team) will be done by the end of next week, and that the fire will be turned back over to the local forest. There will likely be about a month of patrol and mop-up and suppression repair, along with the work by the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team.
Those with cabins in Central Camp wondered about the road leading up to the mountain community, which is very narrow, with some sections one-lane through rock walls on both sides. With large fire equipment using the road for the foreseeable future, one solution might be for people to access Central Camp by using Beasore Road after the evacuation is lifted, so as to avoid any unpleasant meetings along the winding trail.
When asked how the community can keep this type of thing from happening again, Cooper had a ready answer.
“The best way is to get involved in your local Fire Safe Council,” he said.
Fire Officials, Sheriff Varney and Lt. Pogue, Tom Wheeler and Public Information Officers from the Willow Fire made themselves available for one-on-one questions from the public at the conclusion of the meeting, which lasted about an hour.
Of course everything that was discussed in the meeting comes with a caveat – If all goes as planned. So far today, it’s looking good on the lines.
We will update with more details on the how things went on the day shift after the 6 p.m. briefing.
By the way, before you load up your pickup and head for the “dump,” you might want to call ahead. They have been closed down, and were reportedly evacuated a couple times this past week. The number at the North Fork Transfer Station is 559-877-4200.