At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, residents in the Bass Lake Heights area were let back into their homes following Sunday’s Courtney Fire that destroyed 30 homes.
Crane Valley Road (426) between Summit Drive and Road 223 will remain closed to through traffic until further notice.
Homeowners in the area will be required to show proof of ownership to the Madera County Sheriff’s Department before being issued a clearance pass allowing them access through current roadblocks.
Meanwhile utility workers continue to do their best to restore utilities to the area.
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday night power had been restored to remaining 132 customers in the area and according to PG&E representative Denny Boyles more than 50 employees were working on-site 24/7 helping to repair more than 30 downed poles and countless downed wires.
“Last night, working with Cal Fire and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, we were able to restore all customers affected by the Courtney Fire, except those whose homes were destroyed,” Boyles said
Boyles says this weekend they plan to complete the clean-up efforts as well as preparation to help homeowners rebuild when they ready.
“The next phase going into the weekend would be doing what we can to repair sections where homes were lost so that those homeowner will be able to start the rebuilding process,” Boyles said.
A representative from Bass Lake Heights Mutual Water Company, which supplies most of the water to the area, said the company is working tirelessly to restore water to the area but have several obstacles to overcome.
President of the company, Patti Hemmel, says the company qualified for a $10,000 grant to ensure residents have drinking water available in an emergency type situations.
Hemmel says the money is being used to restore services to the area along with trucking in thousands of gallons to fill the 2-24,000 gallon storage tanks that provided water to residents. Hemmel says that the water may not be potable until treated which they hope to have done within the next few days.
The water company says they had three sections effected by the fire and says one of those sections runs off storage tanks which have had power restored and have since reached 3/4 capacity. Areas which run off of the storage tanks include Balsam Drive, Chaparral, and Boulder Drive.
“Everything there is going to have to be boiled,” Hemmel said. “It’s just a precaution in case of breaks in the line. Residents in those areas can flush, shower, and water but if they are going to drink it they should boil it first.”For the remaining two sections, which run off Cedar Tank Farms on Cedar Drive located in the middle of the devastation, the water company is working to get those wells back online as fast as possible.
For those residents the water district will be hauling in water to fill their 2-24,000 storage tanks to supply the property owners with drinkable water.
Hemmel says one of the three wells which supply the Cedar Tank Farm is already fully functional and can be used for flushing, bathing and watering, though she says it will be a day or so before the water can be treated and made drinkable.
Hemmel says despite having continued issues with two of the wells they were rather lucky, avoiding any catastrophic damage.
“We are really lucky, Hemmel said.” All the electrical panels for the wells were melted so those will have to be replaced but the well heads seem to be fine. Mark Wallo of Wallo Pump Services is working to fix those panels now.”
“It’s going to be a long haul but we have good board of directors trying to save what we can an assess the situation,” Hemmel said.
Hemmel says the water company will be working with the homeowners and their contractors to get everything back to normal as soon as possible.
“There should be enough water, we may have to haul a little bit, but for the most part the one well will do for now.”
Hemmel says they will be testing pressure tanks within the next few days and says they hope to have the the arsenic system back online within soon which will help make the water drinkable once again.
“The biggest problem right now is going from house to house and finding out which pipes are damaged,” Hemmel said.
Sierra Tel was in the area with 12-15 employees and has restored phone lines and Internet to the area.Facilities Services Supervisor Johnny Herr said workers are troubleshooting problems caused by power surges throughout the area.
Herr said anyone with any issues can call the local office at (559) 683-4611 for immediate assistance.Currently Cal Fire has reduced the number of homes destroyed down from 33 to 30.
Red Cross Resource Fair held Thursday
The Courtney Fire moved rapidly, leaving devastation in its wake in the Bass Lake Heights area earlier this week. The community moved just as quickly to rally behind and help those Mountain Area residents who lost everything to the fire at an impromptu Resource Fair held at the Oakhurst Community Center on Thursday.
True Value Hardware of Oakhurst set up 12 palettes with $10,000 worth of equipment and supplies (rakes, shovels, gloves, dog food, bottled water, trash bags, plastic storage containers, and cleaning supplies). Because the Oakhurst site didn’t have enough supplies on hand, they made special arrangements with the Woodland corporate warehouse, and a True Value truck arrived just an hour before residents showed up at the community center.
“When the fire happened, we knew we wanted to do something,” owner Alan Bryant said. “We didn’t want people who have lost everything to worry about replacement costs. Everyone seems to be positive and upbeat ... to be accepting what has happened. It’s amazing to see everyone who has stepped up.”
Other area businesses assisting were:
Raley’s: Gift cards in $100 increments. Multiple cards were given out, depending on family size.
Pawsitively Pet Food Bank: Pet food available at the Oakhurst Feed & Supply. Sonny’s Groom Room, inside the feed store, will help with grooming needs.
The U.S. Post Office had forms for temporary address changes.
Multiple insurance companies — Farmers, State Farm and Kraft & Lee were on hand to answer general insurance questions, or to help file claims.
H&L Lumber staff made 53 sifting boxes so that families have a better chance of locating valuables such as jewelry and coins, as they sift through the rubble and soot left behind.
New Community United Methodist Church offered $100 gift cards for families to use on whatever they need. The thrift shop is also offering free shopping to those who have lost everything.
Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital has cat and dog food, litter boxes for cats, dog leashes, and services for animals with minor burns. At a reduced rate, they are offering long-term pet boarding for those who lost their homes.
Cornerstone Family Counseling is offering six free counseling sessions to those left temporarily homeless because of the fire — (559) 641-6321.
Madera County Building Department was there to guide those looking to rebuild through the permit process. The Tax Assessor’s Office reminded those with homes that have burned down that homeowners can receive tax relief for property tax purposes, (forms at www.madera-county.com/assessor).
Tzu-Chi Foundation of Fresno offered blankets and for those who lost their homes, a total of $500 in financial aid; for those with partial home damage, $300 — (559) 298-4894.
Not affiliated with any particular organization, Mary Ann Ziegler started Adopt a Family to connect small groups like businesses or church Bible study groups with families who have lost their homes — (559) 641-5614.
Sierra Tel offered trimline phones and complimentary remote call forwarding.
Cause 4 Paws Thrift offered half-off prices any time for any item. “We’re all family around here,” volunteer Charlie Overstreet said, “and we just wanted to help the victims.”
There were tables covered with items for personal hygiene. Another with bottled water, cookies, cereals, breads and vegetables. There was a makeshift community message board hanging on the wall, with messages like “If you have horses/goats and need temporary location, I have pasture .... “
“We started off with 30 at the Oakhurst Community Center the first night, and the numbers have gone down from there,” Red Cross volunteer Dennis Fitzgerald said. “Last night there were five — those with animal and medical issues. We especially want to thank Raley’s, Vons, and True Value for their super support.”
The temporary Red Cross shelter at the Oakhurst Community Center was closed Thursday afternoon.
Over and over, one could hear just how proud and blessed they are to live in such a community — one that drops everything to come together in support of their neighbors and their friends.
Beginning at 9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 20, employees from True Value of Oakhurst will be on hand to assist those impacted by the Courtney Fire. They will be stationed at the corner of Crane Valley Road (426) and Pine Street in front of the big, yellow house. These services are available only to those residents who suffered home damage and/or total loss.