Scott Carpenter
The Union Democrat
Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

It’s hot. It’s dry. And, as expected, fires are erupting across the Mother Lode.

Three on Tuesday afternoon alone.

At a fire in Twain Harte, Keven Patton, a Cal Fire battalion chief, said response time was a bit slower than usual because of the other two in Calaveras County.

Nonetheless, crews knocked the fire down quickly, halting the fire’s advance beyond an outbuilding and about a quarter-acre of vegetation on Mount Elizabeth Drive.

The first fire of the afternoon — the Pacheco — began shortly after 1 p.m. in a remote area near Milton off of Lanford Pacheco Road and Milton Road in Calaveras County.

By afternoon the fire had reached 350 acres and Cal Fire was reporting they had not contained it, said Cal Fire Resource Management Secretary Lindy Shoff. The fire prompted the closure of Jenny Lind Elementary School, said Rebecca Turner, the Calaveras County clerk-recorder.

By afternoon, 25 engines, four dozers, one air attack, four air tankers and three water tenders had been called in, Shoff said.

The fire traveled southeast and no structures were threatened.

Shoff said the cause is still under investigation.

Cal Fire reported a fire about 3:15 p.m. on the 3300 block of Stagecoach Road in Copperopolis.

Shoff said that by 4:50 p.m. the forward progress of the fire, then between 20 and 30 acres, had stopped. In all, 13 engines, a dozer and two hand crews have responded to the fire.

She did not know the cause of the fire.

As of 8:20 p.m., the Stagecoach Fire south of Copperopolis had reached 35 acres and was 35 percent contained, while the Pacheco Fire was at 350 acres and 20 percent contained, according to Daniel Berlant, chief of public information for Cal Fire. The Stagecoach Fire had destroyed one structure, said Berlant, who was unable to specify what kind of structure it was.

Meanwhile, in Tuolumne County, a Cal Fire crew deployed just before at 3:54 p.m. to battle a structure fire on Mount Elizabeth Drive in the Cedar Ridge neighborhood of Twain Harte.

The property, an outbuilding, had been entirely consumed by the time Cal Fire and crews from Mi-Wuk-Sugar Pine, Twain Harte and the U.S. Forest Service arrived, said Patton, the Cal Fire battalion chief at the scene.

But because of thick vegetation surrounding the property, which was perched on a hillside, fire crews remained on alert as plumes of gray and white smoke billowed up through the tree branches. A plane flew overhead; the crew searching for spot fires.

“It’s worrisome,” Patton said, describing how the heavily wooded, hillside area increased the danger of a fire that escaped containment.

The cause had not been determined Tuesday night.

The dry, mid-summer conditions that contributed to those fires are also a cause for concern in Yosemite National Park, where the park superintendent recently implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions “until further notice.”

“Yosemite National Park is experiencing high fire danger, along with continued hot and dry weather patterns,” according to an announcement Tuesday afternoon.

The restrictions prohibited people inside the park from smoking or using a cooking fire or campfire below 6,000 feet except in designated spaces.

“Fire restrictions reduce the probability of an accidental fire that could threaten visitors and employees during times of high fire danger,” it read. “This designation will remain in place until rescinded.”

As of Tuesday evening, Cal Fire reported 10 fires across the state. Berlant said all but the two fires in Calaveras County had been contained.

“Despite rain this winter and this spring, the grass is higher, [and it] is now dead and it’s burning, and at the higher elevations the brush and trees ... did not get enough rain to catch up with five years of drought,” he said. “So we are still expecting fire behavior and higher than normal wildfires due to drier-than-normal conditions.”

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