Rough fire forces evacuations in Dunlap, Grant Grove, Wilsonia

Wild cats being moved due to Rough fire

Wild cats at Project Survival's Cat Haven in Dunlap are being moved as a precaution says founder Dale Anderson. The cats will be placed in various equipped locations including the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
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Wild cats at Project Survival's Cat Haven in Dunlap are being moved as a precaution says founder Dale Anderson. The cats will be placed in various equipped locations including the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

The Rough fire’s rampant growth spurred another round of mandatory evacuations. Late Thursday, authorities said parts of the Sierra community of Dunlap need to be cleared out by noon Friday.

Earlier Thursday, as officials from Kings Canyon National Park ordered the evacuation of all park visitors, park employees, concessions staff and residents of Wilsonia in the Grant Grove area of the park.

In Dunlap, Fresno County sheriff's deputies plan start going door to door at 6 a.m. Friday to give mandatory evacuation notices. Deputies will start at Millwood Road, 1.5 miles east of Dunlap Road. Notices will be handed out along Todd Eymann Road and along Highway 245 where it meets Highway 180.

The blaze, which has grown more than 25,000 acres in the last week, has now scorched 110,134 acres. Containment of the fire shrank from 31 percent to 29 percent Thursday. It is now the largest wildfire in California and the eighth largest in the nation.

Highway 180 is closed east of Dunlap Road. Evacuation orders remain for the Hume Lake Ranger District, Kings Canyon Lodge, Kennedy Meadows, Summit Meadow, Goins Ranch and Marvin Pass in Fresno County. The area north of Highway 180 that stretches from Hopewell Road to the west, to the Armenian Church Camp in the center and Happy Gap/Sequoia Lake to the east is also under mandatory evacuations.

The mandatory evacuation orders also include Project Survival’s Cat Haven, which worked furiously Thursday to find temporary homes for its 34 animals.

Evacuation warnings remain in place for Pinehurst and Miramonte.

Cat Haven empties

Wendy Debbas, president of the cat haven in Dunlap, said she hoped to have each cat evacuated by Thursday night. Two bobcats and a lynx moved to Fresno Chaffee Zoo on Wednesday, and Debbas said the other 31 animals will be spread throughout California at three other facilities and zoos.

Cat Haven employees will travel with the animals, which will likely be very stressed after being placed in crates and driven for several hours, Debbas said.

“We have some old, geriatric cats that the move is going to be really hard on,” she said.

Debbas said employees are doing their best to crate as many cats as possible without sedation, which is a risk. Some, however, will have to be sedated for the journey.

The evacuation could take a major financial toll on the facility.

Debbas said much of the food kept at the facility will expire, and it will incur additional expenses related to sedating, crating, moving and housing the animals. The doors are closed to the public until further notice, and Cat Haven’s annual fundraiser, scheduled for Oct. 3, was put on hold.

Cat Haven always accepts donations through its website at www.cathaven.com. It was founded in 1993 and is currently about four miles from the Rough fire.

Warnings in Dunlap

Hundreds of foothill residents packed the Dunlap Elementary School gym Wednesday night to learn more about the risk to their homes from the wildfire burning just a few miles away, and many had the same question on their minds: How soon might they have to flee?

Fire officials did not offer much hope: Searing temperatures, difficult winds and rugged terrain have made this an unpredictable fire to fight, and the first priority for crews is firefighter safety.

“People are asking how many days notice or weeks notice, and you just can’t tell,” said Jim Schwarber, a Rough fire information officer. “In a situation with fire with winds and the weather and fire behavior, it might move a half mile a day for three days in a row and the next two hours move three miles, so you can’t predict how long it’s going to be.”

Schwarber said that in the last three days, the fire has grown 10,000-20,000 acres, but that smoky conditions and extremely poor visibility make the exact number hard to pin down.

Everything that’s between the fire and me is dry kindling. It’s scary.

Jennifer Gross, who has property west of Sequoia Lake

“I’ve been on fire locations where there was no warning (to evacuate),” Schwarber said. “People had no chance to be prepared. Here, we’re giving people the opportunity to make an informed decision. The whole purpose of this is to protect life and safety of the residents and the firefighters. It’s for life and safety.”

A Red Cross station has been set up at the Sanger Community Center, 730 Recreation Ave., to aid those displaced by the Rough fire, and city officials are helping those with pets and large animals relocate.

Meanwhile, the Squaw Valley branch of the Fresno County Public Library has been turned into a base camp for firefighters battling the Rough fire. Over 100 tents have been set up in the library’s botanical garden for firefighters to rest in between shifts, and firefighters are using library computers to connect with their families.

The uncertainty of the crowd at the Dunlap meeting was apparent, but Marjie Hunter, who has lived in Dunlap for 40 years, said residents had reason to question.

“There are a lot of people in this area, and I can see why they are confused about the time frame,” Hunter said.

A retired postmaster, Hunter had never had to evacuate her home until now. Hunter said it was a surreal experience packing up her belongings Wednesday.

On Thursday morning she moved her animals – one horse, two cats and a dog – to a neighbor’s home 20 miles down the road in Piedra. She doesn’t know where she will be staying if she is forced to leave.

“Listening tonight, it’s a trip,” Hunter said. “I don’t like it.”

Jenifer Gross and her husband built a new barn west of Sequoia Lake, right by McKenzie Ridge, and had just received their final inspection on the property. Three weeks ago Gross and her family moved everything off the property even before the warning came, she said.

“We have everything out that needs to get out, but a lot of these people who live here have so much more,” Gross said. “It’s so much more intense.”

Her property lies uphill, directly above steep ground, she says. “Everything that’s between the fire and me is dry kindling. It’s scary.”

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