Rim Fire Update: Authorities to brief residents at meeting tonight

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 22, 2013 

    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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    E-mail: kvaline@modbee.com

UPDATE, 3:45 p.m. Authorities have scheduled a community meeting Friday to discuss the Rim fire with residents and answer questions. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Tenaya School, 19177 Hwy 120, Groveland. According to the United States Forest Service, members of the Incident Management Team will present an update on the current fire situation and plans for the immediate future and be available for questions.

Click here for video.

UPDATE, 12:50 p.m. Organizers of the Film Fest Twain Harte have canceled the event, scheduled next week. "The Rim Fire here has been growing every day, our neighboring communities are directly affected but the air quality is such that we cannot assure clean air next weekend.," said Christine Ravely, marketing director for the event. "In fact, we’ve been told by our fire chief that smoke could be a factor for the coming weeks."

Ticketholders can get refunds or use their tickets for next year's event, she said.

Update, 12:30 p.m.

Fire has destroyed four homes, 12 outbuildings and three commercial buildings. More than 2,000 firefighters and other personnel are now working the blaze. They have come from throughout the state and the nation.

UPDATE, 11:20 a.m.

TUOLUMNE CITY — Deputies and firefighters are going door-to-door this morning in Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills advising residents to leave because of the Rim fire. Tuolumne County sheriff's Sgt. Scott Johnson said officials are not ordering residents to leave but advising them to do so. About 1,800 people live in Tuolumne City and a much smaller number in Ponderosa Hills. The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department is getting help from 60 law enforcement officers from Stanislaus County agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, and the police departments in Oakdale, Turlock, Ceres and Modesto. Additionally, 58 firefighters from fire agencies throughout Stanislaus County are helping fight the Rim fire. Johnson did not know how many people have evacuated because of the fire. He said deputies ordered people in 268 homes in a section of Pine Mountain Lake to leave Thursday. He said residents in an additional 1,000 to 1,500 homes in Pine Mountain Lake have been advised to leave their homes. He did not know how many of the homes were occupied because Pine Mountain Lake is a recreational area and some residents have second homes there and it is not their primary residence.

UPDATE, 9:20 a.m.: The Rim fire has crossed the boundary into Yosemite National Park, the United States Forest Service says. The fire is in a remote area of the park and the valley is unaffected. The fire is growing to the north, southeast and east.

Authorities say the Rim fire jumped again overnight, and has consumed more than 105,000 acres. More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, which now threatens 4,500 structures.

The Rim fire continued to devour thousands of acres of brush, pine and oak trees as it burned out of control near Yosemite National Park.

The wildfire had consumed 63,366 acres as of Thursday and threatened 2,500 homes around Pine Mountain Lake near Groveland. Containment was at 1 percent as more than 1,849 firefighters and other personnel battled the blaze in the Stanislaus National Forest.

The blaze was expected to continue up the Tuolumne River Canyon and spread north and east.

Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Hanvelt said there has not been a fire of this magnitude in his county since the Stanislaus Complex fire a quarter century ago.

In the summer of 1987, dry weather and parched vegetation were catalysts for a dry-lightning fire that burned 147,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest. The Stanislaus Complex fire killed one firefighter and forced the evacuation of almost 2,000 people from their mountain homes.

"This is running the same footprint as the 1987 Complex fire," Hanvelt said. "It has the potential of being very, very dangerous. But we have the best possible teams involved. Cal Fire is doing a great job," he said of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for Tuolumne County after county officials requested that he do so.

Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro said in a news release that the governor's declaration "opens the doors for additional state resources" to fight the fire, as well as for financial help with the costs and recovery from the fire. He added that the declaration makes it possible for the county to seek federal financial help with the fire.

The Rim fire started Saturday in a remote area near Groveland. It nearly quadrupled in size from Wednesday to Thursday, growing from more than 16,000 acres to 63,366 acres. Highway 120 into Yosemite remains closed.

It has destroyed two homes, seven outbuildings and three commercial buildings.

The fire has shrouded much of the county in smoke, leaving some people with stinging eyes, scratchy throats and trouble breathing.

The county's Public Health Department is advising vulnerable people, such as the elderly, to limit their time outdoors. Sonora schools are taking precautions with their students, such as keeping them indoors when the air quality is poor.

Officials have closed campgrounds along Highway 120 and were asking residents living near Pine Mountain Lake to consider leaving their homes.

Thursday evening, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department issued an evacuation order for residents north of Ferretti Road to Elderberry Road because of the immediate threat to life and property.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. Fifty-eight people spent Wednesday there, with officials expecting more Thursday evening.

Bob and Shirley Haliwell left their Pine Mountain Lake home and spent Wednesday night in their travel trailer at the fairgrounds. They had planned to take a short trip through Idaho, Montana, Canada, Washington and Oregon. They have reconsidered that, because much of the western United States is on fire and their home remains at risk.

"We don't want to leave without knowing what will happen," Bob Haliwell, 69, said. "And I really don't want to go to Idaho with all that smoke and fire."

Three wildfires have burned nearly 400,000 acres in Idaho.

So the Haliwells will stay put at the fairgrounds along with other Pine Mountain Lake neighbors.

"This is a great place," Bob Haliwell said. "It has full hookups (for recreational vehicles and travel trailers), is centrally located, and a lot of our friends are here."

Others stayed with their Pine Mountain Lake homes.

Wayne Wilkins, 67, did not want to leave, though he had taken precautions by moving his RV and two horses out of harm's way. He had packed his and wife Merrily's keepsakes and other valuables in case they had to leave in a hurry.

Flames got within five miles of their home Wednesday before firefighters knocked down the fire. "If they come by and say it's a mandatory evacuation, I'm ready to go," Wilkins said.

On the Net: www.inciweb.org/incident/3660.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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