Firefighters made significant headway Tuesday against a wildland blaze in the Sierra foothills near Prather, though steep and rain-starved terrain continued to make progress difficult.
Cal Fire reported early Wednesday that containment of the Goose Fire had reached 65 percent, with nine structures – four of them homes – destroyed. Estimated land burned or burning grew to 2,185 acres. The cost of fighting the Goose Fire through early Tuesday was $5.4 million – and growing.
By 9 a.m. Tuesday, officials had determined the fire area west of Black Mountain Road was safe enough for residents to return. Cal Fire defined the area – reopened to residents only – as east of Black Mountain Road, south of Highway 168 and north and west of Tollhouse Road.
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But it’s still an evacuation area, which means a mandatory evacuation could be implemented again if fire conditions change.
Cal Fire spokesman Johnny Miller said residents returning throughout the day should expect to see fire crews and a lot of heavy equipment still in the area.
Worried homeowners came up Gooseberry Lane, just off Morgan Canyon Road, to check on the condition of their houses.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Ryan Michaels said the homeowners for two of the destroyed homes have been notified, but as of Tuesday afternoon they hadn’t arrived to visit the destruction.
Four residences have been destroyed and 400 structures are threatened in the fire, which began July 30 off Gooseberry Lane and Morgan Canyon, south of Prather.
Ruben Tamamian, 70, and his wife, Arcenia Tamamian, 73, returned to their home along Gooseberry Lane to pick up his Chevrolet Corvette and found it intact despite being nearly surrounded by ash-covered earth.
Ruben Tamamian said he made sure his home had at least 30-40 feet of cleared, defensible space so firefighters could have a better opportunity to save structures.
His former home, a few hundred feet away, wasn’t as fortunate – it was destroyed, along with a trailer.
“We’re lucky, very lucky,” Ruben Tamamian said.
He said that it was a shame to see such a destructive fire, but it helped to clear out brush that hasn’t burned in years.
Arcenia Tamamian was heartbroken to see the devastated landscape but knew it would grow back.
She appreciated the hard work of firefighters who continued to stay nearby to clear out hotspots.
“We won’t live long enough to appreciate what they’ve done,” she said.
Flames turned the house adjacent to the Tamamians to rubble. All that remained was ash on the foundation and a destroyed air conditioning unit. Nearby rested the burnt remains of a pickup and a wheelbarrow. Everything else was hard to identify.
Firefighters from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon watched over the area for any flareups.
Ruben Tamamian said a neighbor showed him a video that shows the fire starting on the property of the destroyed home. Miller, the Cal Fire spokesman, said officials continue to investigate the fire’s cause, adding a final determination could take months.
Busy in Prather
Despite its destructiveness, the fire has proved a boon to some in the foothill communities.
Dan Barkume, owner of the Pizza Factory in Prather, said his pizzeria was swamped on Sunday when fire officials ordered more than 120 pizzas to feed firefighters before their fire camp kitchen could be established.
Barkume said he had to keep his morning staff on through 9:30 p.m. to assist with making the pizzas for the fire crews as they also took orders from the public.
“It was challenging, but we’re happy to do it,” Barkume said.
He said he had to hire more people from the area to cover employees who had to flee to Fresno.
After the Sunday rush, Barkume said his pizzeria is still taking orders from firefighters and has begun the process of delivering pizzas to the incident command center at Sierra High School just up the road in Tollhouse.