Pre-evacuation order given for Cascadel Woods

Cascadel Woods residents were advised earlier this afternoon to prepare to evacuate their homes due to the approaching Willow Fire.

Madera County Sheriff Deputies drove through the subdivision passing our information and a check-list so residents could prepare for the evacuation. The check-list included packing personal identification, medicine, eye-glasses, cell phones and chargers, and personal essentials for five days.

The notice advised residents that a Red Cross shelter was ready to receive anyone who needed a place to go at the Oakhurst Community Center.

Chandy Stafford, with the help of her friend, Rick Gorbet, had two vehicles loaded and ready to go late Wednesday afternoon. Stafford, who owns a pet care business, has lived in Cascadel Woods for about two years.

“Of course, I’m concerned about this fire,” Stafford said. “It’s the price you pay to live in paradise ... but the price of paradise seems to be getting higher and more perilous. But you couldn’t give me a million dollars in cash to live in Fresno,” Stafford said.

Just outside Cascadel Woods, 52 children and about 10 counselors from Tehillah Church in Bakersfield, had just arrived for a week’s stay at Sierra Pines Youth Camp on Road 233 after having a picnic lunch at Bass Lake, when they were notified by a sheriff’s deputy that they would probably have to evacuate the camp.

The vans and trailers carrying all the campers suitcases and equipment were not even unloaded when the sheriff deputy arrived.

Church youth leader Minor Peralta told the campers they would do two things before they are forced to leave - pray and have dinner. Peralta said he hopes the children can return to the camp later this summer if they must leave.

The fire grew overnight from less than 1,800 acres at 5% containment to 2,077 acres, with 30% containment. More than 1,400 firefighters are battling this fire, which was sparked about 2 p.m., Saturday, July 25, east of Malum Ridge Road (274), located to the northern edge of the footprint left by the 2001 North Fork Fire.

Mid-Wednesday morning, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement, saying the Willow Fire remained active overnight (Tuesday) due to the ongoing hot and dry weather conditions.

Mandatory evacuations are already in place for residents on the east side of Road 274, from Willow Canyon Drive to Central Camp, as well as Douglas Ranger Station Road. Gaggs, Whiskers, and Whiskey Falls campgrounds were also evacuated and are closed.

Road closures are Willow Canyon Road, Central Camp Road, Autumn Ridge Road, and Douglas Ranger Station Road at Trails End. Beasore Road remains open to normal traffic.

The fire is in an area that has a heavy concentration of fallen dead trees from previous fires, drought, and bark beetle kills.

Weather concerns have compounded the battle to gain control, with dry erratic winds and lightning predicted for Thursday, and wet thunderstorms and wind predicted for the weekend.

The Central California Animal Disaster Team can shelter small animals at the Oakhurst Community Center. Anyone with larger animals, such as horses, were asked to call Naomi Flam at (559) 433-9663, to arrange taking animals to the Coarsegold Rodeo grounds.

A juvenile male suspect was identified Tuesday as the cause of the fire when he lit pine branches ablaze that fell to the forest floor and grew out of control.

Madera County District Attorney David Linn said the boy’s family called 911 to report the fire, and tried to put it out. Because of his age, authorities are not releasing further details.

- Staff report