Calif. Residents Defy Warnings to Save Cabins

July 30, 2013
The fire started last week, and has charred more than 11,000 rugged acres.

July 30--With a massive plume of smoke billowing just beyond the ridge, Richard Donaghy and his sister, Kay Errotabere of Fresno, diligently raked pine needles away from a rustic Huntington Lake cabin Monday with a sole mission: "We came to save the family cabin."

Donaghy and Errotabere were like many mountain residents on Monday who were warily watching a mushroom cloud of smoke rise from the Aspen fire north of Huntington Lake. The fire, started last week by lightning, has charred more than 11,000 rugged acres and is just 20% contained.

"It looks like a nuclear explosion," said Donaghy, glancing at the smoke towering above the ridge near his family's cabin. The cabin was built by his father just after World War II and is a family treasure because of the memories. Donaghy and his sister did not want to see it turned to ash.

"Let's hope," he said, "we get some rain."

The fire has reached the dam at Mammoth Pool Reservoir and was headed northeast, following the same footprint of a 39,000-acre fire that burned in 1939, said Bill White, public information officer with the Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team.

Smoke inversions have kept aircraft from attacking the fire, grounding many planes during the past week, White said. But on Monday, relatively clear skies prevailed, allowing planes to drop retardant while firefighters worked to cut a perimeter around the blaze and keep it out of the Kaiser Wilderness Area, he said. More than 1,600 fire personnel have been assigned to extinguish it.

"A little smoke" isn't scaring away vacationers like Mary and Jack O'Shea of Seal Beach, who've been camping in the Shaver Lake area for 30 years. They pitched a camp Sunday at Dinkey Creek, with plans to stay through Thursday, although they said the smoke may keep them from fishing at Huntington Lake.

Many businesses at Shaver and Huntington said they've seen little or no slowdown in their business as a result of the fire. The smoke, though, was a challenge for some people who live in and near the mountains.

"Sunday morning, it woke me up at 6 a.m. because I couldn't breathe," said Heather Powell of Auberry, who works as a cashier at Shaver Lake Sports. "It was so terrible, I had to close my windows."

China Peak Mountain Resort owner Tim Cohee said the resort's business has not been hurt by the fire. The resort's 5K "Mud Run" is still planned for Saturday, with 500 runners expected to participate. Firefighters are using a 10-acre parking lot behind the resort as a staging area, but Cohee said that shouldn't affect visitors.

Sherry Nolen, group sales coordinator for China Peak, said the smoke on Monday was much better than several days ago, even though the fire is now much larger.

"As long as the wind stays away, I'm OK, but it's a little concerning," she said.

Nolen, a 27-year resident of Tamarack Ridge near Huntington, said the Aspen fire is causing "flashbacks" for many longtime residents, who remember another large blaze in the area in 1994, the Big Creek fire, that resulted in many evacuations.

"I've been telling every firefighter I see how grateful I am," Nolan said. "It means so much to all of us, them helping out in our neck of the woods."

Several road and campground closures remain in effect. Closed roads are being posted with signs, and information about alternate routes and open facilities is available by calling (559) 893-7018 or checking, said Sandra Inman, lead prevention tech for Stanislaus National Forest, working on the security team for the Aspen fire.

"We still want people to be able to recreate," Inman said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386 or [email protected]

Copyright 2013 - The Fresno Bee

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