With the Rough fire moving toward higher elevations and the threat to the Hume Lake community easing, fire commanders are sending some crews home and bringing in others to move the fight deeper into the forest.
At a community meeting Wednesday night in Dunlap that drew more than 200 people, fire officials explained the moves to anxious residents and tried to answer their questions -- and provide reassurance that crews are gaining ground.
The fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 31, has burned nearly 56,000 acres in and around Kings Canyon National Park and is now 25 percent contained. One structure -- the Kings Canyon Lodge -- burned to the ground last week, but no other structures have been reported damaged.
Many residents at the Dunlap meeting expressed concern for their homes, and Mark Von Tillow, the incident commander for the Rough fire, tried to give them some reassurance.
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"We're beefing up the night shift tonight because the night shift has been so successful," Tillow said. The fire is "a little bit less active at night so we're going to put our horsepower in there at night to do things while they can."
Tillow explained that as the fire burns into higher elevations, it is more likely to hit granite and rock which acts as a "natural barrier."
"When you get up into the park here, you're getting into higher elevation and you're really running out of fuel," Tillow said. "So it's going to run out on its own."
Tom Eldrid, head public information officer, explained the personnel situation in detail.
"Because of the reduction in the structure threat in the Hume Lake area, we pulled a lot of the firefighters in those structure-protection engines out of Hume Lake -- not all of them, but some of them," Eldrid said. "There's such a shortage of firefighting equipment in the state and the nation that once their job is done, we move them out and send them home to get them rested and ready for reassignment."
Eldrid said that the fire is in places that trucks can't go, so the trucks are being replaced with ground personnel to fight the fire.
Tillow gave a little piece of his experience to make everyone feel more confident in what the final outcome will be."Every fire I've gone on for 30 years has gone out. That's all I can give you."
About 200 firefighters were called back into action overnight Tuesday as the Rough fire on national park and forest land in eastern Fresno and Tulare counties grew to 55,989 acres.
The number of firefighters dropped to about 1,900 on Tuesday morning, when the fire held steady at about 52,000 acres. But increased growth early Wednesday prompted the need for more firefighting. As of Wednesday evening, containment lines has been extended to about 25 percent of the fire.
The Rough fire incident management team said firefighters were manning about 12,000 feet of hose to protect “prehistoric and historic” relics near Grant Grove in Sequoia National Forest. Crews were clearing possible fuel around the Converse Basin grove of giant sequoia trees. The oldest verified stump in the grove dates back more than 3,200 years, the team reported.
The massive trees are typically resistant to fire, a fire information officer said, but they can be at risk if trees and other flammable materials cause the fire to grow large enough to crown, or burn the tops of, the sequoias. If the flames reach this height, they can kill the trees and pose a significant threat to the surrounding area.
All campgrounds in Kings Canyon National Park are closed until further notice. The cabins, lodge, visitor center and shops at Grant Grove remain open.
Fire conditions are also expected to restrict access to public lands at the start of the 2015 hunting season. Anyone planning to hunt on national forest lands is asked to contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for information and restrictions.
The fire has moved east into Boulder Creek Drainage, threatening the Lockwood, Evans and Kennedy groves. Crews have cleared dead vegetation surrounding the Boyden Cavern gift shop and applied fire retardant gel to protect the building.
To the northwest, containment lines have been established along the middle fork of the Kings River to protect important Pacific Gas and Electric power grids near Balch Camp.
The incident management team asks all drivers to be careful when traveling in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon area, as smoky conditions and emergency vehicles moving throughout the area have impacted the roads.