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Cascadel Woods under mandatory evacuation as Willow Fire grows to nearly 4,400 acres

Overnight, the Willow Fire grew to nearly 4,400 acres, and remains at 30% containment. A mandatory evacuation order was issued at 8 a.m., Thursday morning for the Cascadel Woods community. This evacuation order included all residences off Road 233, Mission Drive, Peckinpah Acres Drive, and Cascadel Woods subdivision.

The notice advised residents that a Red Cross shelter was in place to receive anyone who needed a place to go at the Oakhurst Community Center. Cost of fighting the blaze reached $8.2 million by Friday morning, with 1,920 personnel on duty.

The Red Cross previously established an evacuation center in response to the Willow Fire, but because of new mandatory evacuations for the Cascadel Woods community, volunteers have set up a full shelter.

“Our disaster team has been working closely with government partners to determine how to best serve the community,” said Executive Director Barry Falke. “We’ve had teams on standby since the fire began so that we could respond quickly to provide relief to these families.”

Red Cross volunteers will provide lodging, meals, hygiene kits and more for the evacuated families. Smoke masks are also provided through Camarena Health and other agencies.

The Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT) is also prepared to care for pets impacted by the Willow Fire.

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 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.

Some members of the North Fork community were not happy that vendors have set up booths in town selling “Willow Fire” T-shirts.

One woman shopping at the North Fork Market Wednesday afternoon, who wished to remain anonymous, said she did not like the idea of people making money over what could be a major tragedy for the community.

Warm temperatures overnight kept fire crews busy with active fire behavior. Hot and dry weather conditions are expected again today, making smoke and flames visible to residents in area communities. The fire remains active on the southern and northern flanks. Fire crews will continue constructing containment lines using direct and indirect tactics supported by air resources. Air resources will begin to fly as smoke conditions clear and allow for safe aerial operations.

The public is reminded to drive with caution on all the roads near the Willow Fire as a lot of firefighting equipment will be traveling on roads going into the fire area.

The communities surrounding the Willow Fire can expect to see smoke throughout the day and into the evening. Outdoor activities should be planned for times when smoke levels are lower. Upslope winds occur during the day, which will often take smoke into higher elevations. In the evening these winds change direction and bring smoke back downslope.

The Douglas Ranger Station Road mandatory evacuation has been expanded to include the remainder of Douglas Ranger Station Road, Trails End Road, Wild Rose Lane, and Elderberry Road.

The Red Cross is able to provide disaster relief services during wildfire season thanks to the generosity of the community. The best way to help current wildfire evacuees is through a financial donation. Visit redcross.org to make an online donation to your local chapter.

For more information about the fire, call (559) 877-7449.

- Staff Report

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