As the Creek Fire burns over 175,893 acres in Fresno and Madera into its eighth day, the more than 1,600 firefighters on scene have forged 6% containment.
That first hard edge on the wildfire has Cal Fire officials expressing cautious optimism about bringing the aggressive blaze under control.
“Today was really the first day we really shifted from being primarily on the defense to being on the offense,” U.S Forest Supervisor Dean Gould said Thursday night. “We’re taking the fight back to the fire.
“Instead of reacting across the board to it and just trying to save what we could, now we’re really … turning the tide back on it.”
More Firefighters, More Equipment
Thursday night and Friday morning saw the arrival of nearly 300 more firefighters and scores of additional ground and aerial equipment.
There are now 187 engines, 65 dozers, 50 water tenders, 28 hand crews, and 12 helicopters working the first.
During Thursday night’s incident briefing, officials credited the hard work by firefighters and the coordinated leadership of the units fighting the wildfire on two main fronts.
Watch: Thursday, Sept. 10 Creek Fire Incident Report
How the Smoke Layer Affects Firefighting
In addition, an inversion layer over the wildfire is trapping smoke, which is lowering temperatures and the intensity of the fire’s fuels. Above the smoke level, the fire remains active and intense, Cal Fire said.
However, a change in wind patterns could blow the smoke out, officials warned.
But if that happens, there is a positive trade-off: more air tankers and helicopters will be able to take flight, dropping flame retardant and water on the fire.
Officials explained Thursday night that firefighters have been able to build lines protecting businesses, homes, and cabins. And, efforts are being made to restore infrastructure as soon as possible so that the estimated 12,000 evacuated residents can return to their homes in the affected foothill and mountain communities.
Thus far, the blaze has destroyed 365 structures and damaged 12, officials said.
Another 14,074 structures are threatened.
No One Hurt in China Peak Explosion
An explosion at China Peak ski resort occurred on Wednesday night, both Cal Fire and the Fresno County Sheriff’s office said, but neither agency reported fatalities or agencies.
The wildfire ignited a bunker where avalanche-control explosives are stored.
“Those bunkers failed so there was an explosion,” Cal Fire public information officer Edwin Zuniga told ABC30. “But we’re happy to report that no firefighters were injured in that explosion.”
Cal Fire credited the absence of injuries to a buffer zone set up between the bunker and where firefighters were working.
Friday’s Situation in Fresno County
This is from the Friday morning Creek Fire incident report:
“Fire resources are working in steep and rugged terrain but continue to make steady progress on containment lines. The fire progresses with backing and flanking runs throughout with occasional isolated torching the night. The main fire spread was in the southeast and northeast portion of the fire. As the damage inspection teams continue to complete their survey of the area and additional data is confirmed, the number of structures damaged or destroyed may change.”
Friday’s Situation in Madera County
Also from Friday morning’s Creek Fire incident report:
“A thick smoke layer continues to moderate fire activity on the west flank. Firefighters are taking advantage of these conditions, making good progress on developing containment lines and protecting structures. Dozers and hand crews are extending (the) containment line from the San Joaquin River to Castle Peak. They are expanding upon old dozer lines and roads, attempting to keep the fire east of Mammoth Pools Road.
“Near Cascadel Woods, crews are incorporating natural fire breaks, such as rocky outcrops and open areas in the containment lines. Dozer line has been constructed around the Marina View Community and work
continues north to Bashore Road. Heavy equipment also continues to work north toward Central Camp to develop (a) line.”
Watch: Boise Hot Shots Work Creek Fire on Cascadel Road
Wildfire Ignites Near Courtright Reservoir
Calfire officials said that a 750-acre wildfire separate from the Creek Fire is burning near Courtright Reservoir, about 37 miles east of Shaver Lake.
Wishon Reservoir is in the same vicinity as Courtright.
For now, Cal Fire is monitoring the blaze.
Thursday, Sept. 10 Updates
Creek Fire Evacuation Zones
Residents of Fresno and Madera counties can check their residences to see if they are in an evacuation zone or an evacuation warning zone.
Click on this link and type in your address.
No More Room for Evacuated Animals at Clovis Rodeo Grounds
The Clovis Rodeo Grounds is at capacity and isn’t accepting animals evacuated from the Creek Fire at this time, Fresno County spokesman Jordan Scott said Thursday morning.
However, the Fresno Fairgrounds at 1121 S Chance Ave. is set up to receive more evacuated animals. Anyone transporting animals to the fairgrounds is asked to contact the Central California Animal Disaster Team (1-888-402-2238) to make arrangements before going to the fairgrounds, Scott said.
Keeping Eye Out for Looters
Law enforcement officers are patrolling evacuated areas regularly to prevent break-ins and looting, said Fresno County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell on Wednesday night.
“We take that very seriously,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office 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.
Watch Wednesday Night’s Creek Fire Briefing
Fast-Moving Wildfires Leave Less Time for Warnings, Evacuations
Associated Press reports that fire experts attribute the extreme behavior of the Creek Fire and other California wildfires to climate change.
Recently “we have seen multiple fires expand by tens of thousands of acres in a matter of hours, and 30 years or more ago that just wasn’t fire behavior that we saw,” said Jacob Bendix, a professor of geography and the environment at Syracuse University who studies wildfires.
Hotter temperatures, longer fire seasons, and an estimated 140 million dead trees from a five-year drought mean that “fires in California are moving faster and growing larger,” said University of Utah fire expert Philip Dennison.
Mike Flannigan, who directs the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at Canada’s University of Alberta, remembers the first report of a fire-created thunderstorm in 1986.
“They were rare events, and now they’ve become commonplace,” he said. “It’s because these fires are higher intensity.”
Speaking directly about the Creek Fire, U.S. Forest Service forester Steve Lohr said: “When you have a fire run 15 miles in one day, in one afternoon, there’s no model that can predict that. The fires are behaving in such a way that we’ve not seen.”
‘Firenadoe’ Trapped Campers at Mammoth Pool
Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Nevada, said that the Creek Fire produced at least two firenadoes that appeared to touch down Saturday — one straddling an access road to the Mammoth Pool campground, where 214 people became trapped.
“It’s really kind of a testament to the remarkable extremes that we’re seeing right now,” Lareau said. “It really is kind of this vicious cycle that it gets into, and that’s when the fire really takes off and becomes these unstoppable infernos.”
Two California National Guard helicopters called in to rescue the trapped campers Saturday night found visibility deteriorating so swiftly that the crews opted to load their aircraft “to the absolute maximum” and well beyond normal safety limits in an unprecedented mission.
On one trip, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond and his three-member crew took on 102 desperate campers in a CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter designed for 30 passengers. A UH-60 Black Hawk ferried 22 evacuees in a helicopter with a normal operating capacity of 11 or 12 passengers.
The overloaded Chinook slowly climbed to 8,000 feet to clear the surrounding mountains and dense smoke.
“It was an absolute emergency and people’s lives were at stake,” Rosamond recalled. “It was pretty dicey. The charts don’t go that high.”
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)