To say Thursday’s progress on the Railroad Fire north of Oakhurst, and Mission Fire near North Fork was good would be an understatement, as firefighters confirmed a timeline for lifting evacuations and opening Highway 41 in the next two days.
For the Railroad Fire, Incident Commander Deron Mills said crews had “turned the corner,” meaning they’re preparing to give the once raging blaze a knockout punch.
“Things are going very well,” Mills said. “In firefighter speak, we turn the corner, we believe, on the incident. There’s a lot less smoke today, and we’re starting to repopulate communities and working to get Highway 41 reopened.”
By Thursday night, the Railroad Fire was 50% contained at 12,099 acres, with 1,045 personnel assigned alongside 95 engines, 14 bulldozers, 16 hand crews, eight helicopters, and additional air support.
During a community meeting inside Mountain Christian Center Thursday, with a video summary available at www.facebook.com/TheSierraStar, a timeline was given that the Sky Ranch community would be reopened to residents at 5 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday, the area of Sugar Pine will be reopened to residents at 3 p.m.
Highway 41 to Yosemite National Park, closed since the fire’s origin in Fish Camp Aug. 29, is set to again allow traffic at 5 p.m. Saturday.
To the west of the blaze, which started Aug. 29 in the Fish Camp area and forced widespread evacuations, Mills said there was full containment. The same was said of the north of the fire, which previously approached popular resort locations like Tenaya Lodge.
Any remaining difficulties are to the southwest of the fire, where a spot fire broke open north of Road 620 on Sunday, and to the southeast, near Cedar Valley, the only location where no timeline was given on lifting evacuations, Mills said. Officials hope to lift those evacuations by the end of the weekend. Evergreeen Conference Center of Oakhurst, and The Grove, were being considered part of the Cedar Valley area, and remained under evacuation.
On the positive end, that spot fire showed no forward progress over Thursday, Mills said, despite any sights of smoke. And near Cedar Valley, burning operations were underway throughout the day to get the area under control.
The number of destroyed structures increased to 17, officials said during the evening’s meeting, as five homes, five historic structures, and seven outbuildings were all confirmed as lost.
All can be assured that when they return home over the next few days, their homes and communities will be “re-energized” with power restored, Pacific Gas and Electric Company spokesman Denny Boyles said.
To help expedite the process before returning home, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office will have forms ready for residents to fill out at the Oakhurst substation. Residents will need to provide documentation they live in the evacuated home.
Six injuries have been reported to firefighters fighting the blaze, as well as the tragic death of Gary Helming, a battalion chief from Santa Lucia who was killed in a car crash on the way home. His funeral services were held Wednesday.
Mission Fire stays within the lines
Brad Bihun, public information officer with Incident Management Team 3, wouldn’t say that the corner had been turned on the Mission Fire east of North Fork, which started Sunday in Cascadel Heights.
However, he said, progress had been excellent as containment jumped 15% from the morning - to 40% overall - as the acreage remained the same, at 1,035.
Plus, Bihun said, there were no additional structures confirmed as lost to or damaged by the fire, with the total remaining at seven (three destroyed).
Nearly 1,700 personnel were assigned to fight the inferno (1,679 total), alongside 155 engines, 33 hand crews, 20 bulldozers, 15 water tenders, nine helicopters, and additional personnel.
“Progress has been great and obviously that’s really good news as to what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last few days,” Bihun said. “Obviously we have our hot areas that we work on, where the fire can be active, but nothing has gone outside containment lines. So what they’re doing now is a lot of mop up and containment.”
An evacuation advisory south of Road 225 was lifted in the afternoon. All other evacuation orders and advisories remain in effect.
The Peak Fire in Mariposa, which started near Usona Road and Indian Peak on Sunday, was 95% contained at 680 acres Thursday night. Three homes, three outbuildings, and two RVs were destroyed, with no injuries.
The cause of all three fires is under investigation.
For all three, a combination of high humidity and lower temperatures helped firefighters make strong progress.
Some schools in the Mountain Area will also be closed Friday due to smoky conditions. Click here for details.
Also, an RV fire spread into vegetation along Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Road) near the Foresta junction in Yosemite National Park Thursday afternoon, forcing closure of the highway from Crane Flat to Highway 140 (El Portal Road). Click here for details.