UPDATE (8 p.m.): Alex Olow, information officer with the South Central Sierra Interagency Management Team, confirmed that the Railroad Fire breached Nelder Grove’s northwester corner by Friday evening, while growing to 4,160 acres with 10% contained. Click here for the updated story, and what crews will do during the night to stop the blaze’s rampage.
ORIGINAL STORY (Originally published at 5:22 p.m.):
With constant air attacks and tireless efforts of ground crews facing high temperatures and shifting winds, the battle against a growing blaze near Yosemite National Park continued Friday.
In the early afternoon, reports came in that due to a shift in erratic winds, the flames, which were moving northeast, shifted south and began to approach the historic Nelder Grove southeast of Fish Camp.
Some reports indicated the fire made it past the grove’s northern boundary by 6:30 p.m., but that information has yet to be confirmed.
Numerous air resources have been attacking the flames to support ground crews as they work to save the grove, home to about 100 mature sequoia trees in a sprawling wilderness of more than 1,500 acres.
Alex Olow, information officer with the South Central Sierra Interagency Management Team, said based on the most recent reports around 5:15 p.m., the fire was at the boundary of the grove to the north. Air attack crews were making heavy drops in that area, Olow said.
Brenda Negley, a volunteer Interpretive Ranger with the U.S. Forest Service who has published a book about the history of the grove, said she felt the sequoias on Nelder Ridge, near Road 5S18 at the grove’s northwestern boundary, would be the most susceptible to flames.
She said if the flames got into that area, and followed a trail leading east, iconic sights like the Hawksworth and Granddad trees would be threatened.
“If it reaches that area and heads east, it will get to Nelder Basin where a majority of our mature trees are, including the 22nd largest sequoia in the Sierra Nevadas, the Nelder Tree,” Negley said. “It is extremely dense there. The (Hawksworth and Granddad trees) are just inside the Nelder Grove’s boundary.”
In a positive sign, on Friday, more than a dozen firefighting trucks from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services were seen in Oakhurst, headed to stage at the base camp at Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park.
Additional road closures were put in place throughout the day, on Road 630 at Buckskin Lane, and on several forest roads: 6S13 at Road 274, 6S40 at Beasore Road, 6S40X at Beasore Road, 6S08 at 6S36, 5S39 at 5S90, and 5S40Y at Beasore Road.
The Railroad Fire has proven a continuous challenge for firefighters as winds, often erratic in nature, coupled with rising temperatures and low humidity, make conditions difficult.
Early in the morning, initial reports from officials indicated the fire shrunk in size, from 2,185 acres Thursday night to 2,130. But less than an hour later, more accurate maps were provided showing a sharp increase to 2,971.
Main attack was directed at the fire’s eastern edge as it traveled towards Big Sandy - where the campground area was evacuated Thursday - especially considering lower amounts of activity on the fire’s northern, western, and southwestern flanks over previous days.
Around 11:45 a.m., reports indicated strong winds from the southwest began to push flames uphill towards the northeast.
Around 1:30 p.m., multiple tanker drops were still seen overhead in the skies of Oakhurst as repeated DC-10 flights made their way to drop retardant on the flame, in support of ground crews building lines in the areas of Fish Camp, Sugar Pine, and the grove.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office reported around 4:30 p.m. that ash was falling in areas like Ahwahnee on Highway 49.
The cause of the Railroad Fire is under investigation. An evacuation shelter is at Yosemite Valley Visitors Center.
Small animals can be accepted at the Mariposa SPCA building, while large animals are being taken at the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds, similar to the Detwiler Fire in July. Tanner Tweed can be contacted there at (559) 994-2794.
Another shelter, courtesy of the Central California Disaster Team, will be available at the Oakhurst Community Center.
Smoke completely blanketed areas in Fish Camp near the fire Friday, and was particularly strong in parts of Oakhurst and Ahwahnee. Ash was seen falling in Ahwahnee and Oakhurst in the morning, and other surrounding communities.
Those with sensitivity to smoky conditions are advised to consult with their physicians, and remain inside with the windows closed. Smoke is typically strongest in the mornings, officials said, and clears from the afternoon into the evening.
Temperatures are forecast in much of the Mountain Area to approach or reach triple digits Saturday and Sunday, then to head into the triple digits Saturday and Sunday, then begin to decline to the low 90s through the week.
Highway 41 remains closed in the Cedar Valley area, with no traffic allowed through to Yosemite National Park. Drivers are being detoured onto Highway 49 in Oakhurst along to the park’s entrance on Highway 140.
The South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team, which is overseeing efforts on the Railroad Fire, can be reached by phone at (559) 373-0040. More information is available by visiting https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5553/, or the Sierra National Forest’s Facebook or Twitter pages.
Members of the public can also text “RAILROADFIRE” (one word) to 888777 to receive regular updates in their area.