New evacuations in Motor Fire near El Portal

FRESNO, Calif.

An evacuation order has been issued for the Rancheria Flats area along with the El Portal Trailer Park. Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol and the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office are assisting residents with the evacuation.

The fire is currently at 0 percent containment.

We have an Action News team on the fire lines and will bring you updates throughout the evening on abc30.com and Action News Live at Eleven.

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The main highway into Yosemite National Park remains closed as firefighters continue to battle a wildfire outside of the park.

A U.S. Forest Service official says the blaze has consumed about 3,000 acres since it started Thursday when a motor home caught fire.

The California Highway Patrol reports that Highway 140 is closed from a point east of Mariposa to the park's gate. Some local traffic is being escorted through, but officials suggest that tourists traveling to the park take Highways 120 or 41 instead.

The Tioga Road is also open for visitors entering the park on Highway 395.

Fire officials say the wildfire is burning in the Sierra National Forest, and not within Yosemite's boundaries. Yosemite officials say all visitor services are available within the park.

With the fire at zero percent containment, fire officials say it will take days to extinguish the blaze.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Air traffic critical to controlling "Motor Fire"
By Corin Hoggard

Fourteen planes and helicopters are a critical piece of the attack on the Motor Fire.

From takeoff in Mariposa to action over the fire, the flight time is just a matter of minutes. Helicopters and air tankers are giving ground crews a leg up as they dig fire lines in areas only accessible by foot.

"The aircraft are extremely critical on this fire," said Sean Lodge of the U.S. Forest Service." If anyone's ever been to the Merced River, it's very steep on both sides -- on the north and south sides of the river drainage."

Action News got a closer look at one of seven helicopters being used to battle the flames. This one is a sky crane known as "Elsie" and its purpose is to dump water on the fire. A tube gets dropped into the Merced River and it collects up to 2650 gallons of water. The pilot will then take this helicopter to the flames and dump water on the peripheral, hoping to stop the fire where it is.

The choppers make about 20 trips back and forth from the river to the fire lines on every tank of fuel. The crews are all coordinated out of a Fresno dispatch center.

In the heart of the coordination effort, U.S. Forest Service employees keep an eye on all the action and decide where to place resources, and when they need more help.

But their most critical piece of equipment may be their eyes in the sky -- the spotter planes flying about 2,000 feet above the planes and helicopters.

"The air attack up above, he's got us in sight all the time," said Randy Erwin, who pilots Elsie for Erickson Air Crane. "He's kind of like the traffic cop in the sky. He's directing everybody."

Even from their elevated vantage point, helicopter crews can't see the extent of the growing fire. Smoke blocks much of the view, but in their own isolated work zones, they can see the impact they make.

"What we're doing for the hand crew we were working with, I feel we were helping them make some progress."

And as the fire encroaches on homes and businesses, progress is priority number one.

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Incident Overview

About 1200 Aug. 25, a motor home caught fire in the Merced River Canyon near Calif. Hwy 140 in Mariposa County. Fire spread to both sides of the Merced River, on the Sierra National Forest to the south and the Stanislaus National Forest to the north. As of 1900 about 1000 acres hab burned with the fire mostly moving up the north slope towards Trumbull Peak where a historic fire lookout tower sits. Spotters are directing helicopter drops in the area of the tower in an attempt to preserve the structure. The Sierra National Forest is directing the response.

Fifteen homes in and around Cedar Lodge have been evacuated. Command is considering evacuation in the Rancheria Flats area, a residential community on the Merced River Canyon. Current focus is on structure protection near Rancheria and Cedar Lodge.

In cooperation and support to the Sierra National Forest, Yosemite National Park has provided two "hotline" numbers for the public to call for fire informaiton 24 hours per day: (209) 372-0327 or 372-0329.

Basic Information

Incident Type:

Wildfire

Cause:

Motor Home Fire

Date of Origin:

Thursday August 25th, 2011 approx. 12:30 PM

Location:

Merced River Canyon

Incident Commander:

David Cooper

Current Situation

Total Personnel: 650

Size: 3,000 acres

Fuels Involved:

6, Pine and brush.

Fire Behavior:

Crowning with a rapid rate of spread

Significant Events:

Evacuations and Road Closures: An evacuation order has been issued for the Rancheria Flats area along with the El Portal Trailer Park. Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol and the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office are assisting residents with the evacuation. Cedar lodge, Incline and local Merced River Canyon Campgrounds were voluntarily evacuated. Rancheria, Old El Portal, and Yosemite West have been advised to prepare for evacuations. Highway 140, from the Foresta Bridge west is closed. There is no estimation as to when Hwy. 140 will re-open.

Outlook

Planned Actions:

Air tankers, Helicopter types 1 and 2,Dozers, Hotshot Crews, Type 1,3 and 6 engines. The Central Sierra Type two Incident Management Team will be on scene Aug. 26 to take command of the fire response efforts. Additional fire resources have been ordered.

Growth Potential:

Significant. The fire has made a significant run in Dry Gulch Canyon.

Terrain Difficulty:

The fire is terrain driven in very steep canyon slopes, and has burned to the top of the ridges above the Merced River on both sides of the canyon.

Remarks:

Local Law enforcement recommend procationary measures. Stay away from Hwy 140 heading to Yosemite National Park. Residence south of the Yosemite maintenance station are being evacuated. As of 4:30 8/26-The fire has made a significant run in Dry Gulch Canyon. This is bringing us near a decision point/trigger for evacuations in Rancheria Flats, a residential community on the Merced River Canyon.

Current Weather:

Wind Conditions 6 mph E

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