Battle against Rough fire intensifies as blaze bears down on Hume Lake

Smoke blasts upward Thursday from Rough fire east of Fresno

Video: A Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System webcam at Buck Rock shows the fire's progress on Thursday.
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Video: A Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System webcam at Buck Rock shows the fire's progress on Thursday.

The Rough fire burning throughout national forest and park land in eastern Fresno and Tulare counties is tightening its grip on Hume Lake, authorities said Thursday.

The blaze, which started with a lightning strike July 31, grew by 1,500 acres overnight, reaching 32,414 acres as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday. It remains 3 percent contained.

Cedar Grove and Hume Lake recreation areas remain closed. More than 2,500 people were evacuated from these areas Tuesday and Wednesday. Highway 180 remains closed at Grant Tree Road. Other areas of Kings Canyon National Park are still open to the public.

Thursday evening, the National Park Service announced that overnight facilities in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park – John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins and all campgrounds – would be temporarily closed as of 10 a.m. Friday. The Grant Grove area, including the General Grant tree and facilities such as a restaurant and market, will remain open.

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said the fire is “quickly beginning to surround Hume Lake from all directions.” He added that firefighters are starting backfires along Highway 180 in an effort to prevent flying embers from starting new blazes across the road.

More than 1,100 firefighters from around the state are working with staff from Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks to stop the fire.

Hume Lake Christian Camps was among the recreation areas evacuated. Guest relations manager Bill Carroll stayed behind with about 50 other employees on Wednesday, but the Sheriff’s Office told Carroll on Thursday that more needed to leave.

“We were told to reduce to the bare essentials,” Carroll said. “Because of that, we are no longer able to offer full dining services to the firefighters.”

Carroll said nine camp employees are maintaining the utilities and buildings, while 16 members of the camp’s volunteer firefighters also stayed behind. Another six firefighters joined them from Firefighters for Christ, a nonprofit organization that defends Christian-owned locations from the threat of fire.

It (Hume Lake Christian Camps) has been a godsend to young people.

Tim LaHaye, minister and author of the “Left Behind” book series

The additional evacuations were necessary because the fire is heading straight for Hume Lake, Carroll said. The multiagency fire incident command center, which coordinates the firefighting effort, was moved from Hume Lake Christian Camps to the Dunlap community several miles east of the fire path.

A large contingent of firefighters currently lines the camp, Carroll said, hoping to protect it should the flames spread. Bulldozers and handcrews are also working to clear the area between the camp and the Rough fire to try and cut down its fuel supply, he added.

“It’s very calm, but it’s also very smoky,” Carroll said.

Carroll said this is the worst evacuation in the history of the camps, which opened in 1946. More than 40,000 people visit the camps annually.

Hume Lake is a reservoir on the west side of the Sequoia National Forest created in the early 1900s by the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company for the storage and transport of logs. The company, owned by Ira Bennett and Thomas Hume, was the last in a long line of lumber businesses that tried to log the giant redwood trees. The company closed in 1924 after a devastating fire, lack of profits and a rift between the partners.

The holdings of the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company were purchased by the federal government on April 8, 1935.

670, 40,000+The number of campers during Hume Lake Christian Camps’ inaugural summer in 1946, and the number of current annual visitors.

In 1945, a group of Christian men in Dinuba started to discuss plans to open a Christian Bible camp. On Jan. 9, 1946, the group bought 320 acres of property along Hume Lake including the hotel, store, service station, post office, 22 cottages and 22 boats, according to the Hume Lake Christian Camps website.

That summer, 670 campers attended Hume Lake conferences staffed by 15 volunteers.

The nonprofit camp has since grown to 360 acres and hosts more than 40,000 guests a year, Carroll said. Half are high schoolers in the summer. Adult retreats are held in the spring and fall, while high school and junior high students attend winter camps.

The National Forest Service has a campground on the northern side of the lake with 74 sites.

The camps have received an outpouring of support from Christians throughout the world, Carroll said. People have used the Twitter hashtag #prayforhume or called the camp directly to offer prayers and support.

Carroll said several donation offers have been made, but the camps have yet to accept them.

“We just aren’t really sure what we’ll need yet.”

Tim LaHaye, a Christian minister and author of the “Left Behind” book series, said he had planned to visit his cabin in the Hume Lake Christian Camps’ subdivision this week. The author, an 89-year-old resident of Alpine, canceled after authorities advised him of the danger.

“It (Hume Lake Christian Camps) has been a godsend to young people,” LaHaye said. “Thousands of people all across the country are praying for a miracle to stop the fire.”

2,500+The number of people evacuated from the Hume Lake area.

LaHaye praised the camp’s influence on young people.

“They bring in some of the finest speakers from all over the country that really appeal to young people,” he said.

“I went to a similar camp in Michigan when I was 15,” he continued. “I heard the call, and I have been preaching the gospel for 68 years and written more than 60 books.

“This experience can be reproduced hundreds of times at camps like this. They reach young people at that key time in life when they can surrender themselves to the Lord and create a lifetime of service.”

When asked about what the loss of the camps would mean to the Christian community, LaHaye paused for a moment.

“It would be very difficult to replace.”

The Sierra National Forest’s fire information department said Thursday afternoon that most of the fire’s growth was to the northwest. It’s heading toward the Sequoia Highlands Resort and Campgrounds. The Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation advisory for the area on Wednesday.

A.D. Lewis, who runs the lodge with his wife, said no one is currently staying on the grounds. His family is prepared to leave the moment the sheriff’s office tells them to, he added.

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