A wildfire in the foothills near Prather continued to burn largely out of control in triple-digit heat Monday, with 303 people evacuated and an untold number of homes damaged by flames, authorities said.
The Goose Fire had burned 2,020 acres and was 20 percent contained as of Monday evening, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
“We have very dry fuels, very steep, rugged conditions, and that makes for a very dangerous firefight,” said Cal Fire spokesman Johnny Miller. The blaze is burning through dry grass, brush and oak woodland.
In addition to the people evacuated, up to 600 animals have been removed from the path of the flames, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said. Eighteen sheriff’s personnel are at the blaze.
Cal Fire said late Monday that three homes and two outbuildings have been destroyed. Officials estimate 400 structures are threatened by flames.
Roughly 500 residents were in the evacuation zone surrounding the fire. Miller confirmed some have stayed, and law enforcement officials have knocked on their doors periodically to check on them.
Shane Mascherini chose to evacuate to his parents’ home in Auberry, but came back Monday to check on his own home and property along Lodge Road.
“It’s hard to leave your house,” he said.
Mascherini was worried about his home since the blaze is just across the road and up the hill. He saw that a few houses had caught fire nearby since he evacuated, but didn’t know any of the affected residents.
He made a quick sign to thank firefighters who have come from across the state and surrounding area to battle the Goose Fire.
“I know there’s not nearly enough thanks, but they really put everything on the line,” Mascherini said. “They work really hard.”
Firefighters got a break overnight Sunday, as favorable weather and line work kept the blaze from spreading, Cal Fire said.
Still, Miller said this is going to be a difficult and prolonged battle for the 1,625 firefighters now assigned to the fire.
“This is a labor-intensive fire,” Miller said. “It’s very steep. It’s very rugged and it’s very hot.”
The triple-digit heat wave that has been roasting the region should relent by Thursday, said meteorologist Jim Bagnall with the National Weather Service in Hanford. Still, it will remain dry, and winds could pick up, which could complicate firefighting efforts.
Miller said firefighters also are being challenged by fire behavior that is similar to what is found in chaparral-studded terrain in Southern California, where it’s not timber, but very thick vegetation.
“It has a tendency at times to burn dirty, meaning not in a straight line,” he said. As fingers of flames spread, it creates headaches for crews that have to create longer containment lines.
Miller said officials still are investigating what sparked the fire, but said the cause may never be known.
“I mean, it’s fire season. It could be a number of things that start these fires,” Miller said.
The Red Cross has an evacuation center at Foothill Middle School, 29147 Auberry Road. The site also provides shelter for small animals.
Some good news came Monday when a sheriff’s spokesman said two deputies found a dog that had been missing. The husky named Kiya went missing from its home on the 32000 block of Lodge Road. The pet was left behind by its owners when evacuation orders were given, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said.
Deputies Doug Richardson and Todd Talent went looking for the dog at 3 p.m. Sunday, and after several hours of searching, found Kiya, her fur speckled with red flame retardant.
The deputies took her to the shelter at Foothill Middle School, where she was found to be unhurt. Kiya, an older dog that is nearly blind, was reunited with her owners, Botti said.
The dog was one of more than 100 animals large and small rescued over the past several days by sheriff’s deputies and the Central California Animal Disaster Team. One of the rescues was of two dogs that were stuck in a house at the fire lines at the top of Black Mountain Road.
Christopher Winchell, 34, was backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, while Selena Winchell, 32, was dropping off her children with her mother in Merced for the weekend when the Goose Fire began.
Selena Winchell didn’t hear anything about the fire until a colleague called her to see if she was OK. She drove back toward Prather to check on the dogs, but wasn’t able to get past the road closure at Morgan Canyon Road.
Christopher Winchell returned to Prather and contacted the animal disaster team to see if it could rescue the dogs as the couple could see flames in the area of their house.
The animal team wasn’t able to enter the Winchells’ neighborhood until Monday, said Naomi Flam, the animal disaster team’s founder and CEO. Members drove up Black Mountain Road with a deputy’s escort toward the house and saw devastation along the way.
“We didn’t think the house survived,” Flam said. “It was all just black ash.”
The rescuers arrived to the house and found it intact and guarded by fire crews. They found the dogs alive and barking in the house, ready to reunite with their owners.
Flam found out that the firefighters fed the dogs sandwiches and gave them water to drink.
The rescuers contacted the Winchells to reunite them with their dogs at Foothill Middle School.
The couple thanked the rescuers.
“We’re just so excited and thankful to everyone for rescuing them,” Selena said.
This event was the high point of the past several days for Flam as it reminded her of her organization’s role.
“This is why we do it,” Flam said. “To save people’s family members – all of them.”