A wildfire that broke out Saturday in Madera County south of Bass Lake grew to more than 1,100 acres by Sunday morning, closing roads and prompting mandatory evacuations as fire crews worked to protect threatened structures.
The Willow fire covered 1,121 acres as of 7:30 a.m. Sunday and was 5% contained, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Iveth Hernandez, a Sierra National Forest spokeswoman, said Sunday morning that the fire southeast of Bass Lake is moving northeast into a drainage near Central Camp.
Protecting the small private community of Central Camp, which is surrounded by national forest, is firefighters’ “main concern.” Hernandez said firefighters on Sunday morning were working to build a fire break line on Central Camp Road so the blaze doesn’t reach the community.
Hernandez said the fire had grown between 600 and 900 acres by Saturday night and by early Sunday morning, was estimated at 1,121 acres. There are between 400 and 500 personnel working to extinguish the fire and a number of aircraft and engines, she said.
On Sunday morning, no homes had been damaged by the fire and no one was injured.
Fire officials didn’t have an estimate for how many people have been evacuated. No new evacuations were issued Sunday morning.
The fire started around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The cause remains under investigation.
The fire is in the area of Road 274 and Willow Canyon Drive between Bass Lake and North Fork. Willow Canyon Drive and Central Camp Road are closed, and mandatory evacuations were ordered.
Judi Norby and a group of her friends were evacuated Saturday afternoon from a cabin in Central Camp that they planned to stay at through the weekend.
“At about 2 o’clock, the sheriff came and said we have to leave,” Norby said. “We saw smoke from our cabin.”
Norby said they caravanned with the neighbors and went by way of Pines Road because Road 274 was closed.
We left our Mickey Mouse waffle iron and some medicine, but we did well packing.
Evacuee Judi Norby
“We left our Mickey Mouse waffle iron and some medicine, but we did well packing,” she said.
Red Cross Central California set up an evacuation center at the Oakhurst Community Center. The Central California Animal Disaster Team also set up at the center to help evacuees shelter their pets.
No one had arrived at the shelter by 7:15 p.m., said Sharon Smith, adding, “some people were refusing to be evacuated.”
Large animals are being directed to the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds.
North Fork resident Dillon Fink said the fire appeared to start near Douglas Ranger Station Road.
“I got to my house quick,” he said. Fink said he was somewhat nervous about the fire spreading, but he said it’s likelier to go uphill than downhill toward his home.
The fire, burning in steep terrain, was being fought by air tankers and helicopters as well as firefighters on the ground, a CalFire spokeswoman said. Units were staging at the North Fork old mill.
The air tankers and helicopters used a dip site at the dam end of Bass Lake, and lake users were asked to steer clear of that area.
The air tankers and helicopters used a dip site at the dam end of Bass Lake, and lake users were asked to steer clear of that area, the spokeswoman said.
Chawanakee Unified board President Barbara Bigelow said no school properties are in danger. The district office and North Fork Elementary are on Road 274 not far from the road closures, but “both are not threatened,” she said.
Last month, three fires broke out in Madera County that burned more than 1,000 acres, destroyed several buildings and resulted in some evacuations. And in August 2014, a wildfire ripped through Oakhurst, burning buildings and closing Highway 41, while another fire near Bass Lake prompted evacuations of a dozen homes on the southeastern end of the lake.
Norby and her husband were also evacuated from their cabin in 2014.
“We do this every year,” Norby said. “This year we were just beginning our vacation. Last year, we were evacuated at the end of our vacation.”
The couple still hope to return to the cabin.
“We’ll go back as soon we can,” Norby said.