A fast-moving wildfire in the foothills near Prather caused mandatory evacuations for hundreds of residents and closed Highway 168 from Millerton Road to Auberry Road in Prather, officials said Saturday.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office deputies issued mandatory evacuations to approximately 100 homes in the area of Gooseberry Lane and Morgan Canyon. Mandatory evacuations also were in effect on Black Mountain Road, Wintermute Lane, Whispering Springs Road, Wildflower Lane and Lynx Lane.
Cal Fire said at 9 p.m. that the Goose fire was reported at more than 500 acres, was only 5 percent contained and had damaged “multiple structures.”
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Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant tweeted at 7:50 p.m. that the fire was burning in an area with many dead trees. Tree mortality in the Sierra has been of grave concern to firefighters who fear that they could cause huge wildfires, such as last year’s Rough fire east of Fresno.
Ed Witt, 51, who lives on Lodge Road, said he had five minutes to evacuate when he left his home at 3:30 p.m. with three cats, a dog and a turtle.
“Cal Fire has told us to get out,” Witt said. “We have Cal Fire guys on the top of the ridge, as you look at the ridge to the right where the smoke is, that’s the back side of my house. I’ve got animals and a turtle in my truck with the air conditioner on and all the valuables and three vehicles that were up there.”
As you look at the ridge to the right where the smoke is, that’s the back side of my house.
Lodge Road resident Ed Witt
Witt said that fire crews already had been in the Sierra earlier that morning battling two smaller fires at Dinkey Creek.
“They put that out in about an hour and a half to two hours,” Witt said. “The crews that were at Dinkey Creek are here now, I believe.”
The Goose fire was reported around 2:30 p.m. at Gooseberry Lane and Highway 168. Numerous structures were threatened by the fire, which was described as spreading at a “dangerous rate.” Saturday’s triple-digit temperatures increased the danger for firefighters.
The Fresno Fire Department, which sent units to help battle the blaze, tweeted at 4:16 p.m. that the fire had expanded to 80 acres, damaged some structures and threatened others.
As of 8:30 p.m., Highway 168 still was closed.
Several planes and helicopters were dropping flame retardant in an attempt to quell the flames, which fire officials said had spread to the top of the ridges at Black Mountain Road and Whispering Springs Lane.
Sierra High School at 33326 Lodge Road in Tollhouse was designated the incident command post.
A Red Cross evacuation center opened at Foothill Middle School, 29147 Auberry Road in Prather. A small animal emergency shelter opened at Foothill Middle and larger animals were directed to Sierra High School.
Lyn Woodall, 66, and her daughter Ashley Kelman, 31, have a cabin on Lynx Lane. Woodall said she goes there once a week to water her plants, and she and her daughter were having lunch when they saw the flames.
“We were sitting there eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Woodall said. “I had half a sandwich gone. I get a weird feeling in my gut and I walk up the driveway and there’s flames right up the hill … It was massive.
“So we went across the road to a neighbor’s and then we got evacuated,” Kelman said. “This is what I would call the picnic from hell.”
I had half a sandwich gone. I get a weird feeling in my gut and I walk up the driveway and there’s flames right up the hill.
Lynx Lane resident Lyn Woodall
Woodall and Kelman said they were worried about other residents who may lose houses or animals in the fire.
Denise and John Price run Foothill Horse Rescue off Lynx Lane, near Gooseberry. Denise Price said she was watching her daughter swim in the pool when the fire erupted. They were able to evacuate seven of their horses but were told to leave the remaining 18. “We got our dogs and cats out. They let us take those but they said leave the horses.”
The Goose fire comes less than 24 hours after a wildfire erupted at an old mill compound in South Fork, leading to mandatory evacuations of Cascadel Woods and other neighborhoods in the North Fork area of Madera County that were lifted Saturday morning.
Cal Fire officials said the 38-acre Fork fire was 70 percent contained Saturday.