The Donnell Fire grew to 12,000 acres Monday and destroyed the main store-restaurant at the Dardanelle Resort that dates to the 1920s, as well as numerous cabins and a yet-to-determined number of homes, a spokesperson for the Stanislaus National Forest said.
A limited number of firefighters made a stand Monday afternoon at Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station, which was evacuated and untouched by fire before noon Monday. Three engine crews and about 15 employees wrapped a cabin that dates to the 1880s in silver reflective material to protect it from flames and wind-blown embers.
There were 277 personnel assigned to the Donnell Fire as of 11 a.m. Monday and that’s not near enough, Manny Madrigal with Donnell Fire incident command and the Central Coast Interagency Incident Management Team said in a phone interview.
“No, we don’t have enough resources,” Madrigal said. “We have our requests in for more crews, engines and aircraft. But we are competing with other big fires statewide right now.”
Madrigal said he and other command staff could use at least double the number of firefighters and other personnel they have right now, “as many as we can get.”
Crews were overwhelmed by extreme fire behavior on Sunday as the Donnell blaze jumped Highway 108 at Brightman Flat and forced fire crews “to disengage from the fire’s intense edge,” while the blaze consumed numerous structures at Dardanelle and Brightman Flat, command staff said.
Personnel were out doing surveys Monday morning to assess how many structures have been destroyed so far, Madrigal said. No injuries and no fatalities had been reported in connection with the Donnell Fire Monday.
Earlier Monday in dense fog banks of smoke and creeping flames next to Highway 108, the hooves of disoriented deer clattered unsteadily on pavement as they tried in vain to get to fresh air. Some birds like ravens took to the air and flew in the smoke. Other birds like jays and woodpeckers stayed nearer the ground and hunted for insects in stumps near deserted, smoldering campgrounds.
No one was around at Dardanelle Resort, where a sign was still out on Highway 108 advising “New Ownership, Under New Management, Bar, Restaurant & Gas Station Open.” All that appeared to be burned to the ground, along with multiple cabins nearby on the south side of Highway 108.
‘Here for duration’
Several miles to the east, Volunteer Firefighter John Capello from Tuolumne County Station 51 at Mono Village stood on the roof of a cabin at Kennedy Meadows and helped unroll silver reflective sheets to help protect the resort’s oldest, most historic building.
“We’re here for the duration,” Capello said. “Even if it gets ugly.”
Capt. Brian Bosque of Tuolumne County Station 55 at Pinecrest said he had three engine crews and they intended to try to save every cabin at Kennedy Meadows. He said they had fire lines set up and hose lays reaching to the Middle Fork Stanislaus River that flows through the resort property.
Bosque estimated nine or 10 cabins at Kennedy Meadows were rebuilt in 2008-2009. The remaining 30 or more buildings at Kennedy Meadows are older. There were 15 resort employees on site Monday morning taking further steps to protect Kennedy Meadows, and they intended to be gone by Monday afternoon, Bosque said.
Fire weather forecasters were predicting the fire could Kennedy Meadows by Monday afternoon. Either way Bosque and his crews were going to have to prepare for the worst.
Guy Perea, a camper, said he s aw signs on Aug. 1 at Donnell Vista before the Donnell Fire became big news, and the signs said “control burn do not report.” The next day all the control burn signs were removed.
Asked about this Monday, a spokesperson for the Stanislaus National Forest said the control burn signs were the only ones staff had available that day. They felt it was important to advise the public the fire had already been reported.
“On the day that the fire was spotted they did put out signs so people would know the fire was identified and they did not need to call dispatch,” Forest Service public information officer Diana Fredlund said. “However the only signs they had in hand were controlled burn signs. So we will look at that and make sure we have other signs in the future.”
Fredlund emphasized that at no time was there any controlled burn or prescribed burn in advance of the Donnell Fire. She said the incorrect signs identifying the Donnell Fire as a controlled burn were placed where motorists could see them on the first day of the fire, after 5:49 p.m. Aug. 1.
“Firefighters were actively trying to get down and manage that fire and see if they could attack it at that point,” Fredlund said. “They just wanted to let people know about that fire. They were trying to do the right thing and it got out of hand very quickly. The fire did escape and take off, like a wildfire. This is where we’re at.”
The Donnell Fire started Aug. 1 near a burn scar from a managed fire last summer and fall called the McCormick Fire that eventually burned up more than 4,300 acres on mountain slopes above Clarks Fork Road and upstream from the Middle Fork Stanislaus River and Donnell Reservoir.
The cause of the Donnell Fire has not been determined. Whether it’s because there was a managed fire in the same general area last year, or other reasons, Fredlund said the Forest Service has been unfairly criticized for letting the Donnell Fire burn.
“I know there’s been a lot of rumors out there,” Fedlund said. “I’d like the community to know the Forest Service has been extremely proactive trying to put this fire out. We have dedicated individuals, fire crews that are from our area trying to put their hearts into it.
“They are just as devastated as everybody else” over what’s been lost already in the Donnell Fire, Fredlund said. “Forest Service employees are members of the community and we feel as much as a loss to the community as everyone.”
There are homes lost, there are cabins lost, there are structures lost in the Donnell Fire, Fredlund said. There were also structures saved Sunday and firefighters were doing all they could to save as many as possible, Fredlund said.
The fire is burning primarily in the Middle Fork Stanislaus watershed in steep, rugged terrain with heavy standing dead and down timber, command staff said in an update. They also emphasize the Donnell Fire has been managed as “a full suppression incident from the start.”
Due to other large fires in the region and state, resources are being ordered and filled as they are available, according to the Forest Service. Command staff on other fires are trying to share aircraft and personnel as needed.
Mandatory evacuations continued Monday on Highway 108 from Eagle Meadow Road to Kennedy Meadows Road and at Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station, including all campgrounds and residences.
Incident command for the Donnell Fire is at Dodge Ridge. Communications staff for the fire are at Summit Ranger Station.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy