Fire near Yosemite grows, threatening 4,000 homes

Times Staff Writers

Thousands of firefighters continued to battle a growing blaze in the Yosemite area Monday, hampered by steep terrain and high temperatures.

About 4,000 homes were threatened -- double the number in danger over the weekend. The Telegraph fire, which began Friday when four residents went target shooting in the remote woods, has claimed 12 homes so far.

Officials declined to name the man who fired the shot believed to have sparked the blaze, which by Monday morning had burned at least 26,000 acres and by Monday afternoon was 10% contained. But Sarah Gibson, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Monday that investigators had found that the shooter did not act negligently and that no charges had been filed.


The fire began at a high elevation, authorities said, and the most difficult part of fighting it has been the terrain, which has made it hard to bring resources and personnel to the rugged region west of Yosemite National Park.

“The Merced River Canyon is some of the steepest, nastiest terrain,” said forestry department unit chief Mikel Martin. “I’ve been working this [area] for 36 years, and I haven’t seen anything like this.”

Martin said firefighters initially tried to airlift resources to parts of the fire, but there was too much smoke. Bulldozers were no help clearing the steep area. The command post is a three-hour drive from the northern reaches of the fire through winding mountain roads.

As a result, said forestry department Deputy Incident Cmdr. Kevin Smith, “the fire’s been dictating what we do. Today, we’re going to start to dictate to the fire what’s going to occur.”

Firefighters had gained ground Sunday, cutting fire lines to contain the flames, and hoped for a turning point Monday. But by late afternoon, it was unclear how much progress had been made.

Temperatures topped 90 degrees and are expected to rise for the rest of the week, according to meteorologists. Humidity levels are low, and winds of up to 35 mph are expected over the weekend.


The blaze is continuing to grow in all directions, said forestry department spokesman Kevin Colburn, although winds from the southwest are strongly pushing the northern edge of the fire.

One casualty of the fire was a major Pacific Gas & Electric transmission line, which brought power to 560 customers. At least half of them were in the Yosemite Valley area, including the famed parks and its hotels, stores and restaurants.

“There is no hard-wire power coming into Yosemite at the moment,” Kenny Karst, spokesman for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, said Monday afternoon. “But the good news is virtually all of our lodging, dining and front-desk facilities are on generators.”

The upshot: At the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, the main buildings and dining areas had power, but most of the guest rooms did not. Lodge staff handed out scores of flashlights, and hot showers were available for no charge at nearby Curry Village.

At the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, the central building was on a generator, but the cottages were without power. Cottage renters were offered rooms in the hotel proper, and all who desired were relocated, Karst said.

“Yosemite Valley is approximately 30 miles east of the fire,” he said. “There is some residual smoke that comes in and out depending on the wind patterns. By and large, we’re seeing people coming in and keeping their reservations and enjoying their stay.”


PG&E; spokeswoman Nicole Tam said the utility had delivered a generator to the region and hoped to have it running by Monday evening, restoring power to the Yosemite Valley area and beyond.

But an additional 600 customers mostly in the Midpines area would remain without electricity Monday night, she said. PG&E; had “de-energized” five sections of distribution lines “so firemen can use water and not be in harm’s way. These are areas that were already evacuated as well.”

Joshua Fritz, 31, was one of those evacuated. On Sunday, he grabbed his photo albums and gun collection and left his Mariposa home, piling into a nearby three-bedroom house with 10 other evacuees, two dogs and two cats.

On Monday, he got word that his refuge was on notice and that the group might have to move again.

Standing with his sister and her children, he watched helicopters drop water on heavily burning areas east of California 49.

“It’s life in the country,” he said, philosophical for now.

Fritz is a cook at the Happy Burger restaurant here, which has been packed with tourists, journalists, firefighters and locals. Thirty minutes after closing time Sunday night, 45 firefighters from San Francisco came knocking in search of food.


“About 15 chickens and 30 burgers,” Fritz said, “and they’re good to go.”