Evacuations have been lifted, Highway 41 has been reopened, and two fires that for a time threatened hundreds of homes in Eastern Madera County have been largely brought under control.
Altogether, the Railroad Fire in Fish Camp, and Mission Fire near North Fork, burned more than 13,400 acres while requiring as many as nearly 3,000 total personnel as they tore through houses and forested land. Cost estimates are being calculated, but some officials said the Railroad Fire, which started Aug. 29, had a price tag of as much as $2 million a day.
The Railroad Fire remained at 12,407 acres and was 80% contained Tuesday. Thanks to a spout of rainfall Monday night over the fire - about a quarter inch - between Sugar Pine and Fish Camp along Highway 41, officials said crews kept off the fire lines as the precipitation helped knock down flames.
The number of destroyed structures remained at 17, with 632 personnel at work on the blaze Tuesday.
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Fire crews will continue with fire line suppression repair, officials said, and a Forest Closure Order was issued Monday to help firefighters and the public stay safe. Effectively, the closure means all National Forest System roads and trails within the fire’s active perimeter will be closed as crews work on suppression repair of damaged land and trees.
The closure will remain in place until the fire is declared completely out, officials said.
Positive news from the Railroad Fire happened quickly over the weekend. On Friday, the area of Fish Camp and Tenaya Lodge was reopened, followed by the reopening of Sky Ranch at 5 p.m. Tenaya Lodge returned to regular business Saturday, after losing more than $1.5 million in revenue following its 12-day closure.
Also Saturday, residents of Sugar Pine were allowed to return to their beloved historic town that largely survived thanks to firefighting efforts. Then, shortly later, Highway 41 was reopened to Yosemite earlier than expected, and the following day, the residents of Cedar Valley - including The Grove and Evergreen Conference Center of Oakhurst - also got to return home.
“We can’t say it enough how thankful and appreciate we are to all the firemen and those bulldozer operators who worked day and night,” said Robin Buck-Friis, a resident of Cedar Valley.
Most portions of Fish Camp, Sugar Pine, and other residential areas were saved from flames despite the 17 lost structures. And though flames spread deeply into Nelder Grove, housing some Giant Sequoias that have lived for more than 2,500 years, the big trees - and some historic cabins - survived the inferno.
The Mission Fire, two miles east of North Fork, also saw positive updates throughout the weekend. On Saturday, residents of the Cascadel Woods area, near where the fire started on Sept. 3, were allowed to return home earlier than previously expected.
On Tuesday, the fire remained at 1,035 acres as it continued to hold within containment lines, and was 86% contained. The number of destroyed structures remained at three, with four also damaged. More than 1,700 personnel were still at work on the fire.
For information on the Railroad Fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5553/ or dial (559) 373-0040. For information on the Mission Fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5588/ or call 1-844-668-3473.
As part of both fires, as well as the Peak Fire on Usona Road in Mariposa - which was 100% contained at 680 acres Saturday - Pacific Gas and Electric Company worked to ensure every evacuated community had their power restored so they could return home.
Spokesman Denny Boyles said PG&E’s crews restored power to nearly 1,000 affected customers, with around 33 poles and seven transformers damaged in total. The company’s Vegetation Management team also identified 1,378 hazardous trees impacted by the flames that needed to be removed for safety concerns, with several hundred removed by the end of last week.
The cause of both fires remains under investigation. Tuesday afternoon, Boyles said in a release that the presence of a third party tree-cutting crew, contracted through PG&E, was in the area “performing important safety work” near where the Railroad Fire started Aug. 29. No official cause has yet been determined. Anyone with questions or concerns can contact the company at 1-800-743-5000.