The vehicle fires that occurred Thursday evening, June 15, in Three Rivers and Friday afternoon in Sequoia National Park are prime examples just how extreme the fire danger is this season.
An emergency 911 call for the Three Rivers car fire came into the county dispatcher shortly after 6 p.m. Dennis Villavicencio, a paid-call firefighter who was in the vicinity, was on the scene within minutes of the 911 call. What he found was two vehicles, one of them on fire, on a steep driveway 50 yards south of Sierra Drive just below the Mineral King Road intersection.
Apparently, a woman was bringing her late-model car down the driveway en route to have the vehicle repaired. Approaching Sierra Drive, her vehicle began to smoke and quickly burst into flames.
From information gathered at the scene, the other vehicle, a late model Kia Sedona, was parked facing uphill on the driveway, while the driver of that car assisted the woman safely out of the vehicle and then assisted with controlling the fire.
After several small explosions, the woman’s car was putting out some huge flame lengths into the branches of a mature oak tree on the east side of the driveway. By this time, Cal Fire Engine 4162 was parked in the driveway, and firefighters dragged a hose connected to a water tender up the driveway.
Villavicencio directed arriving equipment into position and then manned the hose pouring water onto the blaze. Within five minutes the flames began to subside, giving way to an acrid, white smoke.
“It’s critical when pouring water on a car fire to stay downwind,” Villavicencio explained. “There are plastics and highly toxic materials that emit fumes in a hot fire like this one.”
The prevailing up-canyon breeze fanned the flames eastward. Had that fire spread in a westerly direction, it could have become an out-of-control wildland fire headed toward dozens of homes.
Amphitheater Point fire— It’s not unusual for vehicles to overheat while making the steep climb up the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park. Reportedly, that’s what happened on Friday afternoon, June 16, when a late-model sedan burst into flames a mile below Amphitheater Point.
The fire spread to an adjacent slope and burned uphill. A park fire crew and units from outside the park were able to contain the blaze quickly and keep the burned area at less than an acre.
During the incident, the busy Generals Highway was closed in both directions to accommodate the firefighting efforts. There were no injuries in connection with the car fire.
Elderwood Fire— Last Sunday’s (June 18) unstable weather produced showy lightning and isolated downpours. One lightning strike that caused a grass fire was reported at 7:08 p.m. in the Elderwood area.
Cal Fire was assisted in fighting the Elderwood Fire by several Tulare County Fire Department units. By the time the blaze was extinguished, 34.4 acres had been scorched.
Diaz Fire— Inyo National Forest crews responded this week to fire in the high country located on the east side of the Sierra, just southwest of Lone Pine. The blaze is burning in vegetation at 9,000 feet elevation.
On Wednesday, June 21, the Diaz Fire was reported to be approximately five acres and burning in steep terrain. The cause of the fire is under investigation and may have started after smoldering in a tree as a result of the June 18 lightning strikes.