International tourists enjoying family vacations to Yosemite, as well as Sugar Pine and Fish Camp residents were evacuated yesterday due to the Railroad Fire, which began earlier in the day near the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
Tenaya Lodge General Manager Paul Ratchford said he made the decision to evacuate the 302 -room hotel due to how close the fire was to the property.
“We progressively watched the fire move up the mountain,” Ratchford said, “and started notifying employees and guests of potential impending evacuations ... we felt it was time to evacuate as the fire moved into our region and flames were visible from the resort.”
He estimated it took about 30 minutes for the entire resort to be evacuated.
To accommodate evacuees, a Red Cross shelter was set up at the Oakhurst Community Center. Because of the Highway 41 road closure, these evacuees had to travel about three hours through Yosemite to Mariposa and then to Oakhurst.
John and Patricia Luther have been Fish Camp residents for 30 years, and spent Tuesday night at the shelter.
“A sheriff deputy came by and told us we might have to evacuate,” John said, “but the fire seemed small enough that we thought the firefighters would be able to get it out before it got to Fish Camp. Then the fire grew and we were told to get out. We really weren’t prepared, but will be after this.”
The couple tossed what they could grab quickly into their truck, along with their two small dogs, Sissy and Baby.
“It was so strange,” John continued. “Fish Camp is only 12 miles from Oakhurst, and yet no one could drive straight down 41 to get here. So what would normally take us 20 minutes, took us three to four hours.”
While they were driving along Highway 49 towards Oakhurst, they looked over at Hogan Mountain, which they said looked more like a volcano. They have also had contact with someone who told them the fire came as close as just across the street from their property, but that their home was spared.
As for their Red Cross experience, they have nothing but praise.
“These guys are great. They’re so friendly. They even set us up in the pavilion so we could stay with our two dogs, who were in cages ... which was great because we really didn’t know what to do with them. They’re feeling as displaced as we are right now.”
Three-year Red Cross volunteer Danial Peck, who was manning the Oakhurst shelter, said that while only six people spent Tuesday night there, many came through worried about the items, especially passports, they had left behind at Tenaya Lodge. Peck said Madera County Sheriff’s deputies went to Tenaya to retrieve these belongings and that many ended up staying in Oakhurst hotels. Guests who were staying at Tenaya were also escorted by sheriff deputies at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Peck was unsure as to how long the shelter would remain open, but added that it will be there as long as it’s needed.
Pastor Gayle Basten of the New Community United Methodist Church in Oakhurst stopped by, briefly speaking with Peck to advise him that evacuees could visit the church thrift store to get clothing or other needed items, and were also welcome to attend the weekly community meal that evening at the church.
Two Red Cross guests, Abigail Rivera and friend Brenda Luis, were visiting from Monterrey, Mexico. They asked Peck about making a donation as they were leaving the shelter, saying they were grateful and happy that they had a place to stay. The two planned on driving into Yosemite through Mariposa to stay at the Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wawona Hotel).
A second Red Cross shelter has been set up in Yosemite Valley.
The fire has burned 920 acres and was just 5% contained Wednesday morning.
Highway 41 remains closed from the Cedar Valley area north of Oakhurst to the entrance of Yosemite National Park, and in the Wawona area of the park. All visitors are encouraged to access Yosemite through Highway 49 and Highway 140 instead. There is no estimated time as to when the roads will reopen.