Rough fire destroys Kings Canyon Lodge; acreage nearly 42,000 acres

A burned pick-up sits in front of the destroyed Kings Canyon Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park Friday. The historic lodge was burned to the ground from the Rough fire which continues to burn toward Hume Lake.
A burned pick-up sits in front of the destroyed Kings Canyon Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park Friday. The historic lodge was burned to the ground from the Rough fire which continues to burn toward Hume Lake. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The Rough fire, which has burned nearly 42,000 acres, has claimed its first structure, the Kings Canyon Lodge.

But thus far the fire has spared Hume Lake Christian Camps. Officials reported that firefighters had created important fire breaks near the facility to protect it.

At the site of Kings Canyon Lodge on East Kings Canyon Road off of Highway 180, just past Ten Mile Creek, pieces of foundation, broken dishes, twisted metal pipes and a charred pick-up are virtually all that’s left.

Two red-and-white working gas pumps with a sign that reads “America’s oldest double gravity pumps 1928” still stand.

Two red-and-white working gas pumps, adorned by a sign that reads “America’s oldest double gravity pumps 1928,” still stand. Hand-written notes indicate that 87 octane gas was available for $1.33 per liter and 91 octane for $1.40.

Holes in the ground near the lodge were still smoking as of 5:30 p.m. Friday. Abandoned yellow fire hoses surrounded the wreckage – many of them melted at various portions.

Firefighters back-burning on Highway 180 said they had no idea the lodged had burned down. The lodge had remained open until Cedar Grove evacuations on Monday.

The lodge, located at a horseshoe bend between Junction View and Yucca Point, billed itself as a folksy getaway for tourists from near and far. Its website had pictures of visitors from other states as well as Italy and Britain.

Ten wood-paneled cabins joined the main lodge and restaurant. It featured various Americana like gravity-powered gasoline dispensers – not pumps – that would fill a motorist’s vehicle. The store had an old-fashioned cash register that would sound “cha-ching!” when transactions were made. Burgers, fries, sandwiches and salads were standard fare in the restaurant, and beer and wine were for sale.

The lodge, just below an elevation of 4,000 feet, traditionally opened for business in April and closed sometime in November, when snowy weather arrived.

Calls to the lodge’s phone line ended in busy signals Friday night.

Much of the highway was blanketed by smoke from the Rough fire and the back-burning operations. The wilderness between the Hume Lake turnoff and the lodge is checkered with blackened, leafless branches. Pockets of surviving green and brown brush give way to miles of rocky, bare land.

At Hume Lake, leaders said in an 11:15 p.m. Thursday post on the camp’s website that back burns near the dam that forms the lake had burned away brush and created a break. Overnight, firefighters working by headlamp were to set up hoses and create new firebreaks on the dam’s flanks, along Ten Mile Road and toward Camp 7.

“There are strong dozer lines around Hume now, complete with water lines, as well as dozer lines in several other locations near the fire protecting the Hume Basin,” Hume Lake officials said.

It makes my day having hot breakfast and dinner prepared by the Hume staff. Thank you.

Firefighter battling Rough fire

Certain members of the camp – John Patton, Tim Stevens, Ron Setter and Bob Phillips – cooked a pulled-pork dinner for firefighters, and one of the firefighters stopped by the camp kitchen to say, “It makes my day having hot breakfast and dinner prepared by the Hume staff. Thank you.”

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, the camp posted an update saying that it had nearly run out of diesel. The fire engines have nearly depleted the camp’s diesel fuel stores, and its fuel truck has been turned back at the roadblocks several times. The camp hoped to refuel sometime Friday afternoon.

The post said the camp is very smokey but not in immediate danger. A new spot fire started sometime Friday morning on the west side of Hume Lake Road north of the camp that had firefighters a little worried, the camp said, and the fire was continuing to move in a southwesterly direction.

The officials reported that Hume Lake has strong fire lines and firefighters equipped with hoses around its entire perimeter.

In its Friday evening update, the Forest Service said 1,484 firefighters were now battling the Rough fire, which was sparked July 31 by a lightning strike on a steep mountainside in Kings Canyon five miles north of Hume Lake.

The Forest Service also reported growth to the southeast, where the Ten Mile Road buffers were set up overnight.

As of Friday evening, 41,984 acres had burned, and the Rough fire remained at 3 percent containment, officials said. The cost of battling the blaze had risen to $11 million as of Thursday.

Forest Service information officer Mike Johnson said the fire management team would not know just how large the Rough fire is and how much of it is contained until later Friday night, when a reconnaissance plane would take an infrared survey of the area.

Grant Grove

Susan Pianka, an employee at the John Muir Lodge at Grant Grove, said guests who were staying there have been routed elsewhere. Grant Grove employees have been calling other lodges owned by their parent company, Delaware North, to try and house the guests.

Pianka said every guest is entitled to a full refund, and she’s been calling other motels to try and find rooms for those whose plans were interrupted.

The 50 or so employees who live at Grant Grove have not been evacuated, but they’ve been told to pack their bags just in case, Pianka said.

The John Muir Lodge now houses firefighters, who Pianka said were given a discounted rate. The Grant Grove restaurant is also working to feed the fire team.

Grant Grove general manager Colin Baldock said Friday afternoon that firefighters are planning to move the roadblock to the Highway 180 and Highway 198 interchange. This would close Grant Grove.

Baldock said his staff is ready to transition from helping customers to helping firefighters. As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, the Grant Grove gift shop, restaurant and visitors’ center were open. The lodge, campgrounds and cabins remain closed.

Fire information officers confirmed that the closure would take effect at 6 a.m. Saturday.

On Friday afternoon, the Fresno County’s Sheriff’s Office closed a part of Trimmer Springs Road east of Pine Flat Lake. The section of roadway is from Kirch Flat Campground to Balch Camp.

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