OAKHURST, Calif. (KFSN) -- Firefighters have gained the upper hand on a wildfire in the Oakhurst area.
Crews are crediting these massive DC-10 air tankers, stationed here in the Valley, for saving many homes.
The Junction Fire has burned about 612 acres and is 95 percent contained, according to Cal Fire officials. The number of structures destroyed is up dramatically to 47; most of them were outbuildings and storage containers.
The air attacks, unfortunately, didn't come swift enough to save several homes. But firefighters say that orchestrated effort in the sky certainly changed the course of the firefighting effort.
A massive burn scar on the mountainside serves as a stunning reminder of current wildfire dangers. It's also an outline of the impact on the fire from the massive DC-10 air tanker. Cal Fire says the 12,000 gallons of bright red retardant kept the flames somewhat controlled.
The pilot of the air tanker was originally heading from his base at Castle Airport in Atwater to assist in an out-of-state wildfire Monday just before the start of the Junction Fire.
"The pilot said he wasn't going to have enough time to make it to that fire, make it to the drop before their cutoff time, before dark," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson. "So he turned around, came back and was able to make one of the key drops that stopped the forward spread of this fire as it went up the hill."
Christopherson says the tankers were moved temporarily to Castle Airport, in our own backyard, during the massive Rim Fire last year.
"Because of that and the success of that with the incident last year, the U.S. Forest Service has reopened the base there and is operating the DC-10 out of there this year," said Christopherson.
But that's not to leave out the work on the ground. Through the heat of the day, hand crews are building containment lines in the rugged terrain, and snuffing out hotspots.
"My guess is in a minute or so the house was gone," said Patrick Mierkey, who lost his home. "We got out just at the last moment."
Two days after the fire started, the Mierkey family found bits and pieces of priceless family items among the ashes.
Despite the loss, the longtime music teacher is keeping an upbeat tune. "But you know what, this is replaceable, it's stuff," Mierkey said.
Mierkey, along with the rest of the town, is thanking firefighters for all their hard work.
Firefighters remind everyone of the dangers we still face during this wildfire season, that is extended because of the extreme drought conditions.
The following Damage Inspection Narrative was provided by Cal Fire:
3 Commercial Structures
5 Residential Structures
2 Storage Buildings
3 Travel Trailers
8 Utility Trailers
1 Bobcat Tractor
1 Garden Tractor
1 Riding Lawnmower
1 Personal Watercraft (jetski)
1 Tow behind log splitter
2-500+ Gallon Plastic Water Tanks
3 Residential Structures
-- Some properties may have multiple structures/residences lost on a singe parcel.