Firefighters ‘cautiously optimistic’ over El Portal fire efforts

08/01/2014 7:54 PM

08/01/2014 8:28 PM

Fire officials on Friday said they are “cautiously optimistic” they may have the upper hand on the El Portal fire burning in Yosemite National Park, but the French fire in Sierra National Forest continues to grow swiftly.

That Madera County blaze, engulfing more than 8,200 acres by Friday morning, was about 1,000 acres smaller the day before.

Officials on the El Portal fire, which has burned at least 4,518 acres, were allowing Foresta residents to return home at 3 p.m. Friday. Two homes were destroyed in the small Yosemite community last Saturday, the day the fire started.

Foresta will be open to the general public at 10 a.m. Saturday.

A motorcycle fire about 2 p.m. Friday on Highway 120 between Crane Flat and Yosemite Valley has caused a temporary road closure.

The El Portal fire is 78 percent contained, compared with the French fire, at 15 percent containment, all of it on the fire’s southwest edge, near a cluster of homes in Hogue Ranch and Kinsman Flat, said Anne Grandy, a fire information officer.

On Friday afternoon, residents living in the community of Arnold Meadow were told to evacuate because of increased fire activity along the northern perimeter of the French fire, officials said. Forest Road 6S01 (Grizzly Road) between Beasore Road and Minarets Road, the main route to Arnold Meadow, remains closed.

Officials continue to warn foothill and central San Joaquin Valley residents about the effect of wildfire smoke on air quality.

At the El Portal fire on Friday morning, flames were a quarter mile from Crane Flat Campground and about a mile and half from the Merced Grove of giant sequoias, which isn’t believed to be in the fire’s immediate path, said Mark Savage, spokesman for the firefighting effort. Containment is around the fire’s southern edge, with most new activity in the northwest.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that our efforts are paying dividends to stop the forward movement of the fire,” Savage said. “But with the hot, dry conditions, it doesn’t take much for that fire to start moving again.”

Some back-burning – fighting fire with fire – has been successful, although hot spots within burned areas always remain a concern and firefighters are monitoring those closely, Savage said.

The French fire’s eastern flank is running along the San Joaquin River, and the northern end of the blaze is southwest of Mammoth Pool.

Injuries have been minimal on both fires. Three firefighters on the El Portal fire appear to have suffered minor injuries, Savage said. At the French fire, there has been only a sprained ankle, Grandy said.

At the El Portal fire, Crane Flat, Yosemite Creek and Bridalveil Creek campgrounds remain closed.

At the French fire, there are 12 campgrounds and some Forest Service roads and trails closed. They are listed online.

The El Portal fire has at least 1,341 personnel fighting the blaze, costing an estimated $5.7 million, officials said. The French fire has at least 1,500 personnel, costing an estimated $3.7 million.

The cause of the fires remain under investigation.

Another Yosemite blaze, the Dark Hole fire, has firefighters’ special attention. Begun by a lightning strike July 16, the high country fire off Tioga Road has burned at least 725 acres and was 39 percent contained Friday, with 86 firefighters working to ensure it does not get out of control.

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