Massive fire in Sierra destroys 360 structures, burns 175,000 acres

The smoldering remains of Cressman's General Store and Gas Station along CA-168.
The smoldering remains of Cressman’s General Store and Gas Station along CA-168, where the Creek fire tore through and jumped the highway Tuesday in Fresno County.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The massive Creek fire, which has chewed through more than 175,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada, destroyed an estimated 360 structures and prompted widespread evacuations in the foothills northeast of Fresno, is currently the 17th-largest in state history.

The fire was 6% contained Thursday night, and officials said that could grow as weather conditions continue to work in their favor.

After exploding in high heat and strong wind in its first days, the Creek fire’s run through the Sierra National Forest has slowed to a crawl. Winds cleared the air long enough Wednesday afternoon to finally give aircraft an opportunity to line the forest with retardant, as crews on the fire’s southern portion worked to harden the defenses around areas like Meadow Lakes and Tollhouse.

“We’re really trying to start gaining containment on this fire,” said Chris Vestal, a spokesman for the Creek fire response. “A lot of what we want to do is make sure everything that is standing stays standing.”

Much of firefighters’ defensive efforts this week were focused on protecting homes on the fire’s southern flanks, where many residents have been evacuated since the weekend.


“We’re hoping that we can have some changes shortly, but it’s still going to be just a little bit,” Fresno County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Purcell said.

Meanwhile, hikers continue to slowly trickle out of the forest to designated points where authorities can pick them up and move them out of the fire’s footprint. An additional 10 are supposed to be picked up Friday morning to join the hundreds who have been shuttled out in recent days.

On the fire’s eastern face, firefighters have not only navigated difficult terrain, but also in one case, a cache of explosives.

At the China Peak ski resort, flames reached an area that houses explosives used for avalanche control in the winter. Once the fire got there, the explosives ignited.

“We had no injuries with that and we are still working an investigation to determine all causes and to make sure everything is stored properly,” Purcell said.

Firefighting officials said they planned to do more back burning Thursday night — a strategy of burning vegetation in a controlled way to eliminate it as fuel. The operation was taking place on the western flank to shore up defenses around the Mammoth Pool Mobile Home Park.


With the change in weather, officials said the air may clear in the next two days and the flames could begin to grow again, but with all of the containment lines scraped into the earth by bulldozers and firefighters, they are confident they can keep the fire from raging out of control again.