Hazardous waste from the out-of-control Donnell Fire burning in the Middle Fork Stanislaus River watershed — including burned buildings and a burned bridge dating to the 1930s — is a Tuolumne County concern, the county’s environmental health director said Tuesday.
In addition, harmful smoke from the Donnell Fire and the massive Ferguson Fire in and near Yosemite National Park continues to be described by county public health staff as an emergency.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Donnell Fire, which broke out Aug. 1, had burned more than 13,200 acres, and it was estimated to be 2 percent contained. Acreage for the Donnell Fire distributed by command staff has fluctuated up and down several times since Monday and Tuesday.
More than 480 personnel were assigned Tuesday to the Donnell Fire, which has destroyed the historic Dardanelle Resort’s main building, dating to the 1920s, and the 1933 Dardanelle Bridge, which burned Sunday or early Monday and is now lying in the Middle Fork Stanislaus River.
Rob Kostlivy, director of the county Environmental Health Department, told the Board of Supervisors there are concerns about hazardous waste from buildings and other structures that burned in the Donnell Fire on Sunday and early Monday.
“We have a lot of structures that burned,” Kostlivy said. “We have a large resort, Dardanelles, which was impacted.”
Kostlivy said there is a 12,000-gallon underground fuel storage tank at Dardanelle Resort that will need to be checked out. There may also be hazardous materials associated with chemicals and propane, as well as food preparation at the former resort. Kostlivy also expressed concern about hazardous materials from the cabins that have burned, including chemicals, munitions, and other things collected by cabin residents.
Clearing burned properties and cleaning up hazardous materials in the wake of blazes like the Donnell Fire can take months and longer, as many Tuolumne and Calaveras county residents can recall in the wake of the 2013 Rim Fire and the 2015 Butte Fire.
Before noon Tuesday, county public health staff said unhealthy smoke impacts from the Donnell Fire, the Ferguson Fire, as well as the Carr Fire and Mendocino Complex fires are expected to worsen in Tuolumne County due to expected high pressure, daytime inversions and overnight smoke.
The supervisors eventually adopted resolutions ratifying a local state of emergency due to the Donnell Fire, and a local health emergency, as proclaimed by the county health officer and director of environmental health, regarding the threat to public health from hazardous waste in the area encompassed by the Donnell Fire.
People at Tri-Dam Project, the developers and owners of Donnell, Beardsley and Tulloch reservoirs on the Middle Fork Stanislaus River in Tuolumne County, are “very concerned and closely monitoring the situation, and deeply saddened by the losses” in the Donnell Fire, Susan Larson, license compliance coordinator for Tri-Dam, said Tuesday afternoon.
According to Donnell Fire incident command and the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, mandatory evacuations remain in effect along Highway 108 from Eagle Meadow Road to Kennedy Meadows, including all residences and campgrounds, as well as along Eagle Meadow Road and the Clark Fork Road areas.
Farther south, the Ferguson Fire has burned more than 147 square miles, including portions of the west edges of Yosemite National Park near highways 140 and 41. The megablaze is estimated at 43 percent contained. Two firefighter deaths and 12 firefighter injuries have been attributed to the Ferguson Fire.
More than 2,350 personnel remain assigned to the Ferguson Fire.
Before 3 p.m. Tuesday, command staff announced that all evacuations have been lifted for Anderson Valley/Old Yosemite Road in the Greeley Hill area, and Highway 140 and the El Portal area are now open with no restrictions. The 140-El Portal entrance to Yosemite remains closed.
In addition, Caltrans announced Tuesday that Yosemite National Park administrators and Ferguson Fire managers have reopened the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite on Highway 120, Tioga Road and Tioga Pass through the park. Yosemite Valley is still closed indefinitely to visitors and vehicles. Hetch Hetchy Road remains closed.
Full containment of the Ferguson Fire is still hoped for by Aug. 15. Full containment of the Donnell Fire is now hoped for by Sept. 1.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy