The commanders of the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team that assumed management of the Rough Fire last week were on hand at Dunlap Elementary School on Wednesday evening, Sept. 9, to update the public and answer questions. The meeting was conducted by Bob Summerfield, IMT public information officer.
As of Thursday, Sept. 10, the Rough Fire had consumed more than 110,000 acres, burning about 8,000 acres daily given the current weather conditions. Containment is estimated at 29 percent for the lightning-caused fire that started July 31.
More firefighting personnel were added this week, bringing the total to 2,167 up from 1,900 one week ago. Cost to battle the Rough Fire is estimated to be upwards of $70 million.
It is feasible that the Rough Fire will end up being the largest and most costly fire ever to burn in the Fresno-Tulare counties region as it is poised to eclipse the 150,000 acres consumed by the McNally Fire in 2002.
Firefighter injured— Incident Commander Todd Pechota, who in August was the commander of the Okanogan Complex Fire in the Washington that burned more than 250,000 acres, said that the steep terrain of Kings Canyon and California’s drought has presented unique firefighting challenges. One firefighter was badly burned while working to protect Converse Basin, and he is currently recuperating in the burn unit of the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
“I will not sacrifice the safety of the public and the kids out there on the ground fighting this fire,” Pechota said.
Evacuation preparation— Evacuation warnings that were issued earlier in the week for the Grant Grove area were upgraded to “mandatory” on Thursday, Sept. 10. Road closures include the Generals Highway north of the Red Fir gate (just past Wuksachi Lodge) and Highway 180 east from Dunlap Road. The Big Stump entrance to Kings Canyon National Park is also closed as a part of the evacuation order.
New strategy— The closures and mandatory evacuations were necessary to implement the latest strategy to stop the fire at McKenzie Ridge north of Sequoia Lake and west of Grant Grove. The latest strategy to contain the fire on the southwestern perimeter was explained by Jon Teutrine, a member of the IMT.
Drought changes fire behavior— Teutrine said they are seeing things on this fire that models and current fire science predict only a two percent probability of occurring. The plan, he said, is to steer the fire southward into the national park north and west of Grant Grove.
If the strategy is successful, the fire will be effectively contained along McKenzie Ridge and will be merged with the fire that jumped the Kings River nearly a month ago. The entire area will be united into one large burned unit.
By uniting the two burned areas, the blaze could then be stopped at Highway 180 on the south, effectively protecting the structures at Grant Grove and the communities of Dunlap, Miramonte, and Pinehurst. Teutrine said the McKenzie Ridge operation could take a few weeks to complete.
Fighting on several flanks— The Cedar Grove flank on the eastern perimeter is presenting another challenge, Teutrine said. The fire there is burning on the north side of the river and is encroaching on Cedar Grove Village and is within three miles of Roads End.
Firefighters are working in Cedar Grove to protect structures while allowing the fire to move east into the wilderness.
“When the fire reaches North Dome the hope is that it will continue to burn east until it reaches granite and runs out of fuel,” Teutrine said.
No mention was made if and when the fire might reach the Grant Grove of giant sequoias. Teutrine also said with the unpredictability of the blaze, some fire could spot across McKenzie Ridge and threaten facilities already evacuated at Sequoia Lake.
If that happens, Teutrine said, mandatory evacuations would most likely be issued for Dunlap and the other nearby communities. The Cat Haven in Dunlap, which houses several species of wild cats from bobcat to lion and leopard, is already in the process of evacuating.
Unhealthful air quality and periods of heavy smoke are expected to continue in the foothills and even onto the San Joaquin Valley floor throughout the back burning operations.
Updates on the fire are provided every few hours. Best source for the latest information and fire maps is the InciWeb – Incident Information System. In addition, new information phone numbers were added this week: (559) 549-4837 or (559) 332-2028 or (559) 841-6248.