Responders face chaotic Thursday in series of Highway 41 fires

What started as a lone reported spot fire near the intersection of highways 41 and 145 around 10 a.m. Thursday quickly turned into continued reports of numerous blazes headed towards the Mountain Area.

Highway 41 was closed from Highway 145 to Road 200 for hours as a result. It was reopened around 4:15 p.m., with all fires contained.

A driver possibly responsible for the fires, who may have been dragging a chain with their vehicle as reported by the California Highway Patrol, was stopped near Road 206 and Highway 145 around 10:45 a.m. He was placed into custody.

The vehicle was described as a white work truck with ladders on board.

Around 10 a.m., several spot fires were reported along Highway 41 as far south as Avenue 12. Flames were then seen near the 22 Mile House on Road 208.

Less than 10 minutes later, numerous fires were reported all along the eastern side of Highway 41 as multiple engines, hand crews, and air attack flights were called in. A total of 18 fires were reported in what became known as the Canal Fire Incident, Cal Fire spokeswoman Jaime Williams said.

At 10:45 a.m., firefighters said all fires north of Road 145, including one through the Rocky Cut area, appeared to be contained, or would be controlled in a short amount of time.

The largest fire reached 12 acres, Williams said, with others under half an acre before they were contained.

A second vehicle, described as a dark blue Ford F150, was also seen dragging chains north of the Coarsegold fire station along Highway 41. It was unconfirmed by 2 p.m. Thursday whether that vehicle was involved with the Canal incident.

Alongside those blazes, another fire was reported around 10:45 a.m. near the Friant Dam, which prompted additional calls for resources such as air tankers and engines.

Power was shut off for some 320 customers around Indian Springs by Pacific Gas & Electric Company during those firefighting operations, but appeared to be restored within a few hours.

The cause of all fires Thursday remains under investigation.