Creek Fire: It may be weeks before residents are allowed to check on homes
Thousands of residents who evacuated the hillsides of Fresno and Madera counties will not be returning home any time soon.
That was the message in Wednesday's Creek Fire virtual briefing. It will be weeks before residents are allowed back to their homes and many might not have a home to return to.
In less than a week, the Creek Fire has burned through 175,893 acres and destroyed 361 structures. Another nine structures were damaged. The fire was 0% contained, as of Thursday.
"When we experienced the Aspen Fire, then the French Fire... we never dreamed that we would be experiencing a fire that would not only go through those two footprints but also cross onto both districts and affect the Sierra National Forest," District Ranger Denise Tolmi said.
'Fighting a treacherous fire'
Residents are anxious to get to their homes, but authorities are urging people to be patient. First, utility companies — water, sewer, and electric — will have to ensure it's safe for people to return.
Caltrans will also need to make sure roadways are secure.
For now, it's unsafe for even these companies to enter the evacuated areas, according to Incident Commander Nick Truax.
"We are still actively fighting a treacherous fire," he said. "It's going to be a long process, so please be patient."
Creek Fire coverage: The human toll of Creek Fire: 'Our entire community is gone'
On Wednesday, Fresno County sheriff's deputies made two arrests after drivers failed to stop at the roadblock. Deputies took chase.
"We will chase you," Lt. Brendon Pursell said. "We will arrest you for that. Please stop at the roadblocks."
Madera Lt. Zack Zamudio echoed Truax's warning.
"When it is safe, we will allow people to go back to their homes," he said. "Your homes are being protected."
Roughly 4,000 Madera County residents are under a mandatory evacuation order, and another 15,000 are under an evacuation warning. So far, 82 structures have been lost in the Madera County portion of the blaze, according to Zamudio.
Eight damage inspection teams are spread throughout the two counties to determine which properties are still standing. Initial assessments in Fresno County are 50% complete. The "windshield" (a visual assessment) process in Madera County is 30% complete, according to Truax.
Next, teams will view assessors' records to confirm if a structure is in the county's database — this is known as "validation." The process takes time.
"We've seen historical events in the last 48 hours," Truax said. "It's not just us. It's all over California."
In California, 64,000 people are under evacuation orders — 11,936 in the Creek Fire. More than 2 million acres have burned and the death toll is growing.
On Wednesday, the Bear Fire claimed the lives of three people. The fire merged with the Claremont Fire to form the North Complex Fire in Butte, Lassen and Plumas counties. Not long after, it was announced the Slater Fire in Siskiyou County killed one person.
Creek Fire Evacuation Orders:
- Bass Lake Basin, including Wishon
- Bass Lake Annex, and Manzanita
- The town of North Fork and the surrounding area
- 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 & Italian Bar
- Dinkey Creek, Wishon & Courtright Reservoirs
- Tollhouse Road at Peterson Road down to Lodge Road
- Beal Fire Road
- Powerhouse Road to the San Joaquin River
- The entire town of Auberry, which extends from the San Joaquin River on Powerhouse Road to Auberry Road in both directions out to Highway 168. This includes the points next to Prather and next to Cressman's General Store.
- Sycamore and Burrough Valley
- Watts Valley from Maxon Road to Pittman Hill Road
- Maxon Road to Trimmer Springs Road
- Humphrey’s Station to Tollhouse Road
- Humphrey’s Station to Pittman Hill Road to Sample Road
Creek Fire Evacuation Warnings:
- Walker Grade
- Indian Lakes
- The portion of Coarsegold east of Highway 41
- Community of Prather
- South of Little Sandy / Lodge Rd.
- North East of Tollhouse Rd. North of Millerton Rd. / Nicholas Rd.
- East Auberry Rd.
Evacuation points are located at Mariposa County Fairgrounds and Clovis North High School, 2770 E. International Ave. Red Cross has established a hotline for shelter information at 571-595-7401. Text your zip code to 888-777 for text alerts.
California fire tracker: Map traces current fires burning across state in real-time
The Clovis Rodeo Grounds are open to large animals displaced by the Creek Fire. The rodeo grounds are located at 748 Rodeo Drive in downtown Clovis.
For missing persons call:
- Fresno County Sheriff's Office - (559) 600-3111
- Madera County Sheriff's Office - (559) 658-2555
Sheyanne Romero covers Tulare County public safety, local government and business for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @sheyanne_VTD. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.