Wildfire 40 percent contained, power switching back on in places

UPDATE - 6 p.m. Electric power continued to be restored this afternoon to areas that lost electricity because of the Telegraph fire in Mariposa County. PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said two mobile generators had been moved into the area and one was operating today. The second was expected to come on line sometime tonight, he said.

Power was restored to National Park Service facilities in El Portal, just outside Yosemite National Park, early this afternoon and was expected to be restored in Yosemite Valley within hours, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

Smith said that about 600 customers in the fire area remain without power because fire crews are still working there. Many of those customers are in areas that have been evacuated.

"The remaining customers who are still out will remain out until Cal Fire gives us the OK to go ahead" and restore power to them, Smith said.


UPDATE - 3:30 p.m. Cal Fire reports that the Telegraph fire in Mariposa County is 40 percent contained. That's double the containment that the agency reported this morning. The fire has burned 21 homes and 33 outbuildings. The cost of fighting the fire so far is estimated at $15 million.


UPDATE - 8 a.m.

The Telegraph fire has consumed more than 32,000 acres but now, in its sixth day, is 20 percent contained, Cal Fire said today. In its morning update, the agency said the fire had destroyed 21 homes and 32 other structures. Fifteen of the nearly 3,800 firefighters battling the blaze have suffered minor injuries.


MARIPOSA -- As the Telegraph fire stormed into its fifth day Tuesday, still only 15 percent contained, some bits of good news emerged:

Fewer homes than earlier believed have been lost. Hundreds of homes and businesses saw power restored. Evacuees forced from their homes at a moment's notice, with no time to load pets or farm animals, found that friends and volunteers had rescued them.

Doral Mosher left behind Digger. Mosher, 87, had released the old gray donkey from his pen Saturday as flames were about to engulf the family homestead on Mosher Road.

"I could see the fire, and when I could see it starting on my 40 acres, I got out of there," Mosher said. He saw Digger trot away.

Mosher was among hundreds of fire evacuees who left behind animals as they fled flames that have charred almost 30,000 acres, or 46 square miles, and destroyed at least 21 homes and 32 outbuildings in five days. Fire officials said Monday that 25 homes had been destroyed, but revised that figure Tuesday.

About 3,500 firefighters and support staff are battling the blaze. A dozen minor injuries have been reported since the fire broke out Friday. Cal Fire officials would not estimate when they would contain the blaze.

About 4,000 residences in Midpines, Briceburg, Mariposa, Coulterville, Bear Valley, Mount Bullion and the southern part of Greeley Hill remained threatened by the blaze Tuesday. Highway 140 into Yosemite National Park remained closed.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. restored power Tuesday afternoon to hundreds of homes and businesses that had lost electricity because of the fire, a utility spokesman said.

More than 500 customers north of Mariposa along Highway 140 between Indian Flat and El Portal, plus others, had power restored by 5 p.m., said spokesman Jeff Smith.

PG&E shut down power lines into Yosemite on Saturday because of the risk to firefighters. Then the fire brought down a transmission line to the park.

Restaurants, grocery stores and hotel lobbies in Yosemite have been getting by on generators. PG&E plans to bring in another mobile generator today.

Cal Fire Capt. Cheryl Goetz said she couldn't estimate when evacuees could go home. The fire was spreading toward Greeley Hill to the northwest and toward Stanislaus National Forest and El Portal to the northeast. About 30 homes in Greeley Hill were under mandatory evacuation; El Portal residents were advised to evacuate.

About 150 people attended a community meeting Tuesday night at Mariposa County High School, where many made it clear they would like to return to their homes. Goetz cautioned them of the danger of flare-ups and said power and phone service need to be restored before evacuees could return.

Debby McLain was among those eager to return, saying she had visited her home Tuesday and saw no flames nearby. She said she didn't need power and phone service because she has a cell phone and a generator.

"I just want to go home," she said, under her breath.

On the northern edge of the fire, it was a tense day in Greeley Hill.

Resident Brian Shutt said a Forest Service employee told him to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice. He and his wife, Sharon, had packed important papers and family photos, and some food for their year-old Jack Russell terrier.

By Tuesday evening, it looked as if the fire had bypassed the community, the wind driving the flames toward the east.

But Shutt wasn't letting his guard down, because the wind can change direction quickly.

Shutt said some residents have been through wildfires before. "They are not all that worried about it," he said. "We have other people who are homebound, who don't drive, who have never been through something like this. They are freaking out."

In the event of an evacuation, authorities had a plan to send automated phone messages to residents and pick up those who don't have transportation.

At the Mariposa fairgrounds, animal control workers are keeping watch over a zoo's worth of creatures.

"There are chickens, cats, horses, geese, dogs, rabbits -- just about every kind of animal you could have," said Capt. Byron Robles of the Mariposa County Sheriff's Department.

County animal control workers rescued many of the animals. But some, including Digger, escaped death thanks to friends helping each other in this mountain community where neighbors know each other, as well as each other's animals, by name.

Jon Currie, one of Mosher's neighbors, saved Digger. The donkey often made unexpected visits to Currie's place, about three miles away on Whitlock Road.

Currie found Digger there Saturday. It was about the same time that neighbor Wendy Vittan called. Sheriff's deputies were telling her to evacuate and she didn't know what to do, Currie said. Her husband was out of town, and she had five horses with no time to save them.

Currie also was under orders to evacuate. He could pack his belongings and leave. Or he could help Vittan get her horses out.

Currie, who doesn't own a car, saddled Fausto, his appaloosa, for the 45-minute ride to his neighbor's.

"He didn't get anything out," said Eve Sheldon, another neighbor. "He had a choice of what to save, horses or house, and he went for the horses."

Flames paralleled his ride up the Mount Bullion trail. "Trees were blowing up," Currie said. "That was exciting."

When he got to his neighbor's, Currie quickly fashioned halters out of ropes left outside the corral. And with Fausto as lead, he tied the five horses -- Ripple, Rosebud, Blizzard, China Doll and Trixie -- in a row. Digger ran loose behind. Currie led them to a safe area and a trailer took them to the fairgrounds.

At the fairgrounds Tuesday, Currie twisted his handlebar mustache and gave credit to Fausto for leading the horses to safety. "He was bridled and saddled and ready to ride, looking like a hero," he said.

Currie lost his house and belongings in the fire. But he has no regrets. "It was the right decision. I'm convinced of that."

As the pet owners waited out the evacuation, they got one more tidbit of good news: a Sacramento-based nonprofit group, United Animal Nations, is offering grants of up to $500 to help victims of the Telegraph fire care for pets.

People who qualify can get money to pay for veterinary care or temporary boarding if expenses are fire-related, said spokeswoman Alexis Raymond.

Modesto Bee staff writer Ken Carlson contributed to this report.

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