Creek Fire Displaces Nearly 12,000 Residents. Return Could be Weeks Away, Officials Say.
Update: 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9
Nearly 12,000 people in Fresno and Madera Counties have been displaced by the Creek Fire, a CalFire official said at a Wednesday evening briefing.
The fire has now consumed almost 167,000 acres and continues to threaten mountain communities including Auberrry, North Fork and Oakhurst. Evacuation Orders and Warnings remain in effect and officials said it will likely be weeks before residents from fire-damaged areas will be able to return to assess the condition of their homes and other property.
Law enforcement officers are patrolling evacuated areas regularly to prevent break-ins and looting, said Fresno County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell.
“We take that very seriously,” he said.
The Sheriff’s department is deploying about 150 deputies each day to keep the area secure, Pursell said. Madera County Sheriff’s Lt. Zack Zamudio said about 100 personnel from his agency are also assigned to the fire zone.
As for the count of structures lost in the blaze, CalFire incident commander Nick Truax said there was no change to Tuesday’s estimate of 365 destroyed buildings, though teams are continuing to survey the damage.
Wednesday’s firefighting effort was aided by an increase in air support, resulting from “clean air” conditions that reduced some of the smoke that has hindered flight operations.
“Some of the previous days, that’s been pretty challenging,” said CalFire section chief Mike Wink.
Among the aerial resources put to greater use on Wednesday were water-dropping helicopters and a 747 “Global Supertanker” capable of pouring 19,200 gallons of suppressant or retardant to slow the spread of the blaze.
Wilk said aerial support was deployed around Huntington Lake, Shaver Lake, and Auberry on Wednesday, as well as areas north of the San Joaquin River drainage. Social media posts showed heavy air activity around Meadow Lakes, where a large number of radio, TV and communications transmission towers are located.
#CreekFire SuperTanker 944 circling back for additional drops. RT from Sacramento. #GST944 pic.twitter.com/DLnxrpZq0c
— Active Incidents (@ActiveIncident1) September 10, 2020
Update: 2:43 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9
Valley Public Radio reports that the world’s largest airtanker, a Boeing 747, is over Auberry and Meadow Lakes fighting the Creek Fire.
World’s largest airtanker, Boeing 747-based @GSTSSupertanker is over Auberry & Meadow Lakes figthing the #CreekFire now pic.twitter.com/MIx1VrlDE2
— Valley Public Radio (@KVPR) September 9, 2020
The privately owned Global Supertanker aircraft has been used to fight fires around the world since 2016. It’s a converted Japan Airlines passenger jet that can deliver 19,200 gallons of water or fire retardant in a single mission.
According to flight tracking information posted to social media, the 747 tanker flew in and out of Sacramento’s McClellan Airport for its Creek Fire assignment.
Update: 7:09 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9
Cal Fire officials said Wednesday morning that the Creek Fire was at 152,833 acres and had destroyed 360 buildings. Both numbers were slight downward revisions from Tuesday night.
Nearly 5,300 structures are threatened.
Speaking about the fire in Fresno County, officials said that “heavy fuels, especially the high tree mortality, will continue to be an issue for control efforts. This combined with the limited access and difficult terrain will allow the fire to continue to spread into the forest. The threat the communities will continue to exist, the size of the fire will create a large area for control efforts.”
Cal Fire reported progress on the wildfire in Madera County.
“A strong inversion moderated fire activity (Tuesday) on the west side of the fire by holding smoke over the area which provided shade and a buffer from the gusty winds at higher elevations. Hand crews and equipment operators are making progress constructing containment lines from the San Joaquin River northwest toward Castle Peak,” Cal Fire said in its morning incident report. Dozers continue to work to reduce vegetation and burnable materials in the vicinity of structures at Cascadel Woods.”
However, The Red Flag Weather Warning was extended through 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“High temperatures, low humidity, and high winds will persist in the area, creating extreme fire conditions,” Cal Fire said.
360 Properties Destroyed
Cal Fire detailed the structures destroyed by the Creek Fire:
- Single Residences: 60 Destroyed
- Other Minor Structures: 20 Destroyed
- Commercial Structures: 02 Destroyed
- Commercial / Residential 278 Destroyed
Personnel, Equipment Deployed
Nineteen crews totaling 1,065 personnel are involved in the effort to contain the aggressive blaze.
There are 114 engines, 13 water tenders, 13 dozers, and nine helicopters deployed.
Madera County Road Closures
The Oakhurst Area has the following road closures:
Road 225 / Road 274
Road 221 / Road 200
Road 426 / Road 223
Road 222 / Road 274
Road 221 / Road 200
Road 420 / Road 223
Sky Ranch Road / Buckskin Lane
China Peak Employee Housing Burns
The owners of China Peak said in a social media post on Tuesday that employee housing at the ski resort near Huntington Lake had been damaged.
They also said that a strike team was working hard to “manage the flames and to protect the structures on the base area.”
All of the resort’s employees have been evacuated.
#CreekFire update. Stay strong. Stay Positive. pic.twitter.com/3YBXQmgHp6
— China Peak (@China_Peak) September 9, 2020
Smoky Conditions Close Choinumni Park, Campgrounds
Due to Creek Fire smoke and ash, the Choinumni Park day-use Area and campgrounds near Pine Flat Lake were closed Wednesday.
However, the Avocado Lake and Winton parks, which are a short distance from Choinumni Park, will remain open, Fresno County officials said.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Evacuation Map
Fresno County and Madera County law enforcement estimate that 45,000 people have been evacuated from mountain communities since the Creek Fire began burning on Sept. 4.
Update: 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8
Fire officials said Tuesday evening that 365 structures have been destroyed or damaged in the expansive Creek Fire, based on a preliminary assessment conducted earlier in the day.
“They have started their preliminary investigations and have completed approximately, just a small portion, of the southern zone,” said Marty Adell, with the National Incident Management Team. The southern zone includes all areas south and east of the San Joaquin River, which includes Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Big Creek, and Auberry.
Related Story: Creek Fire Burns Cabins in Huntington Lake’s Huckleberry Tract
Adell cautioned that the assessment has just begun.
“They have ordered 10 more units, 10 more teams, that will come in and aid in the expedition of getting more answers” about the full extent of the fire’s damage to homes and other buildings, Adell said.
The size of the fire grew to just under 163,000 acres on Tuesday, officials said, resulting in the evacuation of about 45,000 people in the path of the blaze since it started on Friday night. The fire remains at 0% containment.
Weather conditions over the next 24 hours were not favorable to getting the blaze under control, said incident meteorologist Ryan Walgren.
“So, we have another 24 or 25 hours of Red Flag warning conditions,” Walgren said. “What that means is it’s weather that’s adverse to both public and firefighter safety; for putting this fire out.”
Walgren said strong easterly winds are pushing the fire toward North Fork, Auberry, Prather, and again toward Shaver Lake. Warm temperatures and low humidity continue to contribute to the dangerous conditions, he said.
Weather conditions are looking more favorable starting on Thursday and heading into the weekend, however.
“The weather conditions do look much more favorable,” Walgren said. “We’ll get some cooler temperatures, some higher humidity, and some lighter winds.”
Update: 4 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office described the Creek Fire as “burning out of control in the areas of Bass Lake and North Fork” on Tuesday.
In response, the Sheriff’s Office asked for surrounding law-enforcement agencies to help with evacuations and security of the businesses and residences.
“Several deputies with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office volunteered to help and have been assisting with evacuation orders going door to door in the residential and rural areas,” the Madera County Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post.
Merced police also answered the call for help, saying on social media: “The Merced Police Department will continue to assist the Madera County Sheriff’s Office until our services are no longer needed.”
Update: 3:37 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has put evacuation orders into effect for:
Humphrey’s Station to Tollhouse Road
Humphrey’s Station to Pittman Hill Road to Sample Road
“An Evacuation Order means there is an immediate threat to life. This is a lawful order to leave now. The area is lawfully closed to public access,” said the Sheriff’s Office.
Update: 10:20 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office says Evacuation Orders are now in effect for the #CreekFire for Sycamore Road and Burrough Valley, Watts Valley from Maxon Road to Pittman Hill Road and Maxon Road to Trimmer Springs Road. An Evacuation Order means there is immediate threat to life.
An Evacuation Warning has been issued for all residents in the Prather/Auberry area. The boundaries are Auberry Road to Millerton Road and Tollhouse Road to Nicholas Road to Highway 168.
An Evacuation Warning means there is a potential threat to life or property. Those who require additional time to evacuate and those with pets or livestock should leave now, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The fire grew overnight to just under 144,000 acres and destroyed the iconic Cressman’s General Store on Tollhouse Road, just past the end of Highway 168, according to multiple reports.
This is a terrible loss. Cressman’s General Store and Gas Station. pic.twitter.com/wHd2mbDigk
— Sheldon. Gajarian (@shskbob) September 8, 2020
Updated Satellite Fire Map
Click on this link for Creek Fire satellite map updates.
CHP Lists Road Closures
ROAD CLOSURES road due to the #creekfire
– Pittman Hill Road / Tollhouse Road
– Pittman Hill Road / Sample Road
– Pittman Hill Road / Watts Valley Road
– Maxon Road / Trimmer Springs Road
– Hwy. 168 at the roundabout in Prather pic.twitter.com/YE2TKh9Q5n
— CHP Fresno (@ChpFresno) September 8, 2020
Update: 7:50 p.m., Monday, Sept. 7:
Fire officials say the size of the Creek Fire has now grown to 135,523 acres, almost doubling in size since the morning. It is still at 0% containment. A total of 1,060 fire personnel are battling the blaze.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office says mandatory evacuation orders are being developed for both sides of Bass Lake and that areas east of Highway 41 in Oakhurst, Coasegold, and O’Neals are moving to warning status.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Brandon Pursell told reporters Monday night, “This is one of the largest and most dangerous fires in the history of Fresno County. I don’t think everyone understands that. Playing that game of ‘how long can I wait’ is just foolish.”
Mandatory evacuation orders are being developed for Bass Lake. This will include both sides of the lake. Residences east of Rd 222/Rd 432 and Road 426/Rd 222 will be evacuated. Areas east of Hwy 41 in Oakhurst, Coarsegold, O’Neal’s moving to warning status.
At 7:27 p.m. the Fresno Fire Department updated an earlier report on an attempted evacuation of people trapped by the fire at Lake Edison. A department spokesperson said on social media that the attempt was unsuccessful, reporting that “military pilots tried valiantly to land but heavy smoke conditions prevented a safe approach, another effort will be made shortly to evacuate the trapped people in Lake Edison and China Peak using night vision.”
Update: 6:50 p.m., Monday, Sept. 7:
The Fresno Fire Department reported Monday evening that it had “reports” of a military Chinook helicopter landing near Lake Edison to rescue people trapped by the Creek Fire.
Updated information has reports of a military Chinook helicopter landing near Lake Edison to rescue people trapped by the Creek Fire. FFD and EMS units are on the ground waiting to receive and render care to all rescued individuals.
— Fresno Fire PIO (@FresnoFire) September 8, 2020
Update: 9:46 a.m., Monday, Sept. 7:
Firefighters working in steep terrain through Sunday night saved Shaver Lake from flames roaring down hillsides toward a marina in the Sierra mountains of central California.
Sheriff’s deputies went door to door to make sure residents were complying with orders to leave. Officials hoped to keep the fire from pushing west into rural towns along State Route 41 and possibly Yosemite National Park.
The aggressive Creek Fire grew to 78,790 acres, with no containment over Sunday and into Monday morning, Cal Fire officials said.
Two ducks looking for lunch on shaver lake, amidst a massive ash island that’s formed from ash thrown by the nearby #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/vjURrXJN1M
— Gillis Jones (@Gillis57) September 7, 2020
“The fire continued to grow under extreme conditions. Fuels continued to be the main influence of the fire, with the heavy fuel loading from the dead and down material,” officials said in Monday’s morning’s incident report.
“Timber in the area has approximately 80-90 percent tree mortality from the bark beetle. The community of Shaver Lake was threatened throughout (Sunday) night. (The) fire crossed over Highway 168 and is moving south with extreme fire behavior.”
#Fresno County Admin Officer Jean Rousseau gives update on #CreekFire. Command center set up at Sierra HS in Tollhouse pic.twitter.com/mEf3uI0nXf
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) September 7, 2020
The massive containment effort now involves 10 crews totaling nearly 1,000 firefighting personnel, according to Cal Fire.
There are 117 fire engines, 11 bulldozers, seven helicopters, and four water tenders involved in battling the fire, which is on both sides of the San Joaquin River near Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, and Big Creek in Fresno County, and Mammoth Pool in Madera County.
Fire Spreads in Madera County
At 7 a.m. Monday, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office advised residents: “Please do not wait for an order. If you do not feel safe, leave.”
As of 7 a.m. on Monday, 9/7, this is the current status of Madera County evacuations. At last report, the Creek Fire is 78,790 acres and 0% contained.
Please do not wait for an order. If you do not feel safe, leave.#creekfire #fire #evacuation #sheriff #maderacounty #emergency pic.twitter.com/z3HuHCNnrq
— Madera Co. Sheriff (@MaderaSheriff) September 7, 2020
Josh Edelson. who is a freelance news photographer, posted pictures on Twitter of the fire in the Cascadel Woods area in Madera County. “Firefighters saved all the homes in the area overnight,” Edelson said.
A few pix from an all-nighter at the #Creekfire in the #CascadelWoods area of Madera county early this morning. Firefighters saved all the homes in the area overnight. pic.twitter.com/VRrKsiu2JV
— Josh Edelson (@JoshEdelson) September 7, 2020
🔥 UPDATE 🔥
The #CreekFire is estimated to be at approximately 78,790 acres. Below is the latest fire line map from CAL Fire. pic.twitter.com/bSCJJtS99e
— Andreas Borgeas (@SenatorBorgeas) September 7, 2020
Tell the Red Cross If You Have Safely Evacuated
If you have safely evacuated from the Creek Fire, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office asks that you register yourself through the American Red Cross Safe and Well website at this link.
This public resource allows family and friends to search for you so they can have the peace of mind that you are well.
Fresno County Evacuation Orders
At 10:50 a.m. Monday, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office — acting on the advice of Cal Fire — ordered the immediate evacuation of Auberry. The order was for all residents in the area bounded by Auberry Road to Powerhouse Road, Highway 168, Lodge Road, and Little Sandy Road.
Residents are pleading their case to return home through Auberry Road at Highway 168 but being stopped by @CHPCentralDiv #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/7tgx4M8BRM
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) September 7, 2020
The other mandatory evacuation orders are listed below:
— Shaver Lake down to Cressman Road, including Cressman Road
— Big Creek
— Huntington Lake
— Camp Sierra
— High Sierra areas, which include Florence Lake, Ward Lake, Portal Forebay, Edison Lake Mono Hot Springs, Kaiser, and all campgrounds.
— The area west of Tollhouse, along Auberry Road west to Powerhouse Road.
— Alder Springs, Mile High, Meadow Lakes, Big Sandy, Mono Wind Casino, Jose Basin, and Italian Bar.
— Dinkey Creek, Wishon, and Courtright reservoirs.
— Tollhouse Road at Peterson Road down to Lodge Road
— Beal Fire Road
— Powerhouse Road to the San Joaquin River
Top of the 4 lane Jose Basin pic.twitter.com/KXG73IMmAP
— Buddy Mendes (@BuddySupervisor) September 7, 2020
Vehicle Exit Routes
— Those who are between Shaver Lake and Dinkey Creek should exit toward Pine Flat Lake via Providence Creek Road.
— Those who are in the area of Dinkey Creek and Courtright / Wishon reservoirs should exit toward Pine Flat Lake via Black Rock Road.
— The exit routes above are dirt roads. They are not passable with RV trailers, so drop your trailer at a safe location before leaving.
Original Story Filed Sunday, Sept. 6
The Creek Fire moved aggressively toward Shaver Lake on Sunday afternoon, threatening stores and cabins throughout the Sierra hamlet about 50 miles northeast of Fresno.
A photo sent to GV Wire℠ by a person on the scene showed the fire next to businesses at “The Point” adjacent to the lake.
Another photo showed flames ripping along the shoreline behind a marina.
Firefighters assigned to the Creek Fire are battling high temperatures and lightning strikes.
Video drive thru village Shaver Lake and Ken’s Market 6:20 pm today. #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/ZmNCFwC86s
— craig philpott (@CphilpottCraig) September 7, 2020
We have dropped off another load of supplies to firefighters and first responders and evacuees. Thankful my community friend Brian Bobbitt has helped me pack up his truck! #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/CCLQgbhksb
— Yas (@FresYas) September 7, 2020
Shaver Resident: “It Looks Like Mars Out There’
By Sunday afternoon, smoke had blocked the sun and fire threatened a marina and cabins along Shaver Lake.
Jack Machado helped friends remove propane tanks from the lodge Cottages at The Point. Sheriff’s deputies went through the town to ensure that residents complied with evacuation orders.
“The lake is totally engulfed with smoke. You can’t hardly see in front of you,” Machado said. “The sky’s turning red. It looks like Mars out there.”
Related Story: Rescuers in Military Helicopters Fly 207 People to Safety in Creek Fire
The wildfire, named the Creek Fire, started Friday and by Saturday afternoon exploded in size, jumped the San Joaquin River and cut off the only road into the Mammoth Pool Campground, national forest spokesman Dan Tune said.
The Creek Fire grew to 45,500 acres from Saturday night to Sunday morning. Some observers said that as of Sunday afternoon it had grown considerably bigger than that.
The United States of smoke 🔥😟 #CreekFire pic.twitter.com/es4PZfKFYM
— Zoom Earth (@zoom_earth) September 6, 2020
Newsom Declares Emergency for Fresno, Madera, Mariposa Counties
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday issued an emergency proclamation for the counties of Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa because of the Creek Fire.
He also declared emergencies in San Bernardino County due to the El Dorado Fire and for San Diego County due to the Valley Fire.
The governor’s office announced that it secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to bolster the state’s emergency response to the Northern California wildfires.
The state additionally has secured Fire Management Assistance Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the state’s response to fires burning in Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Napa, Nevada, Lake, Solano, Yolo, and Monterey counties.
Fire Tornado to Blame?
The massive and rapid growth of the fire prompted UCLA climate researcher Daniel Swain to consider whether a fire tornado was to blame.
“#CreekFire has exploded in size & intensity at a time when 1000s of visitors have crowded area,” Swain posted on Twitter. “Massive pyrocumulus cloud indicative of extreme fire behavior, & #pyrotornado may have occurred.”
Atmospheric aerosol/stratospheric folks: this extremely vigorous and tall #pyrocumulus plume atop the #CreekFire looks like a good candidate for stratospheric smoke injection. This has been observed for a number of recent intense fires in Australia & boreal forest region… https://t.co/J6zgmRF4qv
— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) September 6, 2020
The Creek Fire’s origin was about 7 miles northeast of Shaver Lake. It is believed to have started at around 6:45 p.m. Friday. The cause is under investigation, Cal Fire officials said.
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)