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Thursday, September 29, 2016
Tuolumne County Marshes Fire grows to 1,000 acres 25 percent containment; evacuations lifted
Marshes Fire grows to 1,000 acres
25 percent containment; evacuations lifted
The Union Democrat Firefighters with dirty faces and bulldozer drivers clad in fire-retardant gear toiled this morning to try to get a handle on the Marshes Fire, which burned about 1,000 acres near Moccasin.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office reported Tuesday night that the fire was 25 percent contained and residents were being allowed back into the homes, where power has been restored.
Law enforcement will remain on site through the night and Highway 49 remains closed.
On Tuesday, a hose line had been installed around the fire perimeter, authorities said.
Conditions for crews on the front lines continued hot and dry, with afternoon highs expected to peak in the 90s. They’re working in steep, rugged terrain in places and access is limited for crews on the ground. Pilots in helicopters began making water drops on the blaze before 10 a.m. Tuesday. More than 800 personnel are assigned to the fire.
Fire behavior was less extreme than Monday, when the slope-driven blaze threw out flames up to 50 feet tall at times, said Operations Chief Mike Blankenheim of Calaveras County Battalion 3.
Primary objectives for firefighters Wednesday include keeping the fire west of Highway 49 so it can’t climb the hill toward Big Oak Flat and Groveland, and safely building containment lines, Blankenheim said at a temporary command post on the 49, overlooking helicopter pilots and ground crews working hot spots on a blackened mountainside below Nancy’s Ridge.
One firefighter was injured, Cal Fire communications personnel in San Andreas said. The firefighter was airlifted to a hospital in Modesto. Details were not disclosed.
Blankenheim said fire camp for the Marshes Fire was relocated from Moccasin to the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, also known as Frogtown, outside Angels Camp.
Moccasin Ranch Estates
Rod Catalano, 76, was one of the few who refused to leave Moccasin Ranch Estates Monday night despite a mandatory evacuation order. He said he developed the area, subdividing it into 41 parcels of 37 acres each. There are 15 homes spread over more than 1,100 acres, and he was relieved when he drove his Jeep to check on them this morning.
“I don’t think we have any homes destroyed,” Catalano said before 8 a.m. “Me and John Sigfried stayed. I think we were pretty lucky.”
The fire was reported at 12:15 p.m. Monday. Catalano said his girlfriend, Nancy Simat, spotted the beginning of the blaze and called it in.
“It started at cattle guard one, on the Kelly Grade up Marshes Flat Road,” Catalano said. “Then it went over the hill toward the 49.”
Catalano said the fire appeared to be human-caused but he did not go into detail.
“It’ll come out,” he said.
At least 14 homes in Moccasin Ranch Estates were initially placed under mandatory evacuation orders, and an evacuation center at the Hacienda in La Grange was opened.
Debbie Calcote of the Sierra Delta Chapter of the American Red Cross said no one spent the night at the shelter. It was closed once the order was lifted.
The fire was burning south toward Coulterville, according to sheriff’s personnel. Highway 49 remained closed from the Highway 120 junction at Moccasin to Blacks Creek Road.
Catalano said a rancher named Cody Reed has about a hundred cows in the area. Reed was busy this morning on an all-terrain vehicle, looking for strays in the same area Catalano checked individual homes.
“They wouldn’t let us up here yesterday,” Catalano said as his Jeep lurched and bounced on ruts in the road toward Nancy’s Ridge. “I decided to stay to keep an eye on things. I think the nearest edge of the fire is about three miles up.”
Catalano said he bought the land known as Moccasin Ranch Estates in 1980. He subdivided in 1985 and started selling lots in 1995. Most of the people who own land up there are part-time residents. Some full-time residents are retirees.
He hollered at a “Moccasin Ranch jackrabbit” that jumped in the road, and he talked to deputies and firefighters who were driving slowly up and down the same unpaved section. He stopped at a neighbor’s house to check on their dog.
At 8:50 a.m., a Forest Service supervisor in a pickup told Catalano five engines were coming down the grade. Catalano praised Sgt. Craig Davis, who specializes in rural crimes in Tuolumne County.
“He came by my place two, three times last night,” Catalano said. “He came by to help the cattle guy put a trough out to water the cows. He does everything he can to help us.”
One of his neighbors left during the fire with a motor home, Catalano said. Another neighbor came back for his dog and left.
****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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