The Fish Fire jumped U.S. 395 at a ranch gate approximately three miles from Big Pine (left) but was contained to the median strip and the highway shoulders. Fanned by high winds, the flames moved quickly toward the southern border of the community. Photo by Deb Murphy
More than 1,000 acres were scorched just south of Big Pine Saturday afternoon, putting residents on alert for the second weekend in a row.
The Fish Fire was approximately 90 percent contained by Monday morning with full containment expected by evening.
Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department and CalFire were alerted at 1:59 p.m., Saturday. Firefighters from as far as Olancha and Mono County responded through the afternoon.
Ten fire engines, eight crews and five water tenders and 190 personnel were on the fire lines at the height of the blaze.
Air support made the difference with a total of seven air tankers, two air attack planes and two helicopters on the scene within two to four hours.
According to Julie Hutchinson, CalFire public information officer, the air tankers responded from bases on the west side of the Sierra with one coming in from Nevada. Two air attack planes responded from Hemet, functioning as air command for the incoming tankers.
In addition, two helicopters were called in from Sequoia and Yosemite national parks.
High, gusting winds and the seasonal dry brush pushed the flames from North Fish Springs Road to within a half-mile of Big Pine in roughly 90 minutes, at one point crossing onto the U.S. 395 median strip and scorching trees on the east side of the highway.
The Inyo County Sheriffâ€™s Department sent out a voluntary evacuation notice through its Code Red system. An evacuation center was set up at the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
The highway was closed from Keough Hot Springs to South Fish Springs.
While the cause of the fire is under investigation, the point of origin was near the power line access road just north of North Fish Springs Road.
The path of the flames covered some of the ground scorched last July in the Johns Fire, a factor that lessened the intensity of the blaze.
What the Johns Fire missed in 2011 fed Saturdayâ€™s fire as it burned to the highway three miles from the south end of Big Pine.
The fire narrowed and was held south of the county dump transfer station.
Big Pine residents watched the wall of smoke move toward the community through the afternoon.
The evacuation was called off at 9 p.m. Saturday evening.
With three major fires in the last 18 months, the formation of a Fire Safe Council in Big Pine is timely. The third meeting of the Council will be held Monday, July 16, 7 p.m. at the Town Hall on Dewey Street.
French Fry Fire
Bishopâ€™s fire department was called out at 4:40 p.m. Saturday as 20 tons of French fries went up in smoke on the Sherwin Grade.
According to a California Highway Patrol incident report, a five-axle semi driven by Mel Goetting pulled to the west shoulder of U.S. 395 just south of Gorge Road with smoking brakes.
The rig was loaded with 40,000 pounds of frozen French fries.
The brakes caught fire, engulfing the tractor/trailer in flames and starting a brush fire.
Southbound traffic was detoured for approximately an hour as emergency personnel contained the blaze. All lanes of U.S. 395 were opened by 11:30 p.m.