Winds quickly spread a fire that broke out at about 1:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon near Courtney Lane off Crane Valley Road (426). The fire burned up the valley to the north and jumped Road 426, to Bass Lake Heights, destroying 33 homes, 28 outbuildings, and 17 vehicles. At the height of the fire, 400 homes were threatened.
Although no homes were destroyed on Balsam Drive, 14+ homes were reduced to smoldering ash on Cedar Drive, with additional homes lost on Manzanita Drive, Pine Drive, and on Road 426.
According to Cal Fire, 320 acres have been burned, with 100 fire engines, 10 bulldozers, 13 water tenders, and 650 firefighters on site in addition to six helicopters, four airtankers. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate the area, which is still closed to the public. Homeowners that have to return to their homes for needed medication, are being escorted in and out of the area.
Early estimates of homes destroyed, lost personal property, vehicles and fire suppression costs have been placed at more than $12 million.
The fire was 20% contained at 4 p.m. today (Monday).
In addition to Madera County firefighting crews, additional engines and crews came from throughout the state including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, and the cities of Selma, Hanford, Reedley, and Porterville.
On Sunday, Madera County Sheriff’s Department deputies evacuated residents in the path of the fire to Red Cross emergency shelters at the Oakhurst Community Center and North Fork Elementary School.
Kathy Woodward and Jeanne Andrews, both visibly shaken, were at the Oakhurst Community Center after being evacuated, not knowing if their homes were destroyed or not.
“When I was driving away all I could see was black smoke,” Andrews said. “All I had time to grab was some clothes, medicine, and my (golden retriever) dog Buffy.
Woodward lives alone on Chapparal Drive off Balsam. She was in town shopping at the time she got a phone message about the fire from a friend and could not get back to her house before the Road 426 was closed.
“I don’t care about the house, I just wanted to get my three dogs out, but they wouldn't let me in to get them,” Woodward said.
The Central California Disaster Animal Team was at the community center and were taking care of four dogs, four cats, and two birds. Large animals were taken to the Bohna Ranch in Coarsegold.
Those evacuated to the community center were fed at 7:30 p.m. by Sierra Pines Church who had left over food from a church function. A member of the church, Justin Barigian, is a chef, and he provided pasta with Italian sausage, green salad, bread and deserts for about 30 people.
Road 426, between Courtney Lane and Road 223 is closed, as is Road 222 between Road 432 (Recreation Point) and Road 426, and Road 426 between 222 and 223.
People in need of clothing (or to donate slightly used clothing), toiletries, and linens and pillows, have been asked to go to Mountain Resale, 49333 Crane Valley Road (426), Sierra Suds Laundrymat, 40423 Highway 41, or Manna House on Junction Drive.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Details: information line, (209) 966-4784, www.fire.ca.gov.