High wind conditions on Tuesday helped to rapidly grow a fire sparked in Walker, leading to nearly 100 structures burning down over the course of 24 hours, and one recorded fatality.
Three civilians and one firefighter were injured as well.
The National Weather Service in Reno clocked wind speeds over 80 miles per hour in the area and in the upper 50s and 60s throughout the region.
The incident, now being referred to as the Mountain View Fire, was one of several fires to break out on Tuesday. The Laura 2 Fire began to burn on Tuesday morning near Doyle, Calif. in Lassen County; so far 19 homes and 30 outbuildings have been destroyed in the 2,000-acre blaze. Another fire near Vinton, Calif. burned 150 acres before being contained.
In Nevada, the Pinehaven fire broke out in the West Reno area of Caughlin Ranch, destroying 5 homes and heavily damaging 3 others. Local authorities hope to have the blaze under control by Friday.
None wrought the devastation experienced in Walker.
In Walker, the fire began around 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon in the vicinity of Mountain View BBQ and by Wednesday afternoon had scorched over 20,000 acres of land in the Antelope Valley, mostly on the east side of Highway 395 and in the residential neighborhoods of Walker that border the highway on that side.
The Toiyabe Indian Health Clinic in Walker reportedly burned down as well as the Solid Waste Transfer Station.
Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun ordered 395 closed from Bridgeport to the Nevada Line to prevent danger to travellers through the area and initated an evacuation order for Walker, Topaz, and Coleville residents with a temporary evacuation point at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, Nevada.
178 residents were at the Inn on Tuesday night, 130 the following night.
Fire crews from Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, Big Pine and the Mountain Warfare Training Center were dispatched to the
incident to assist in managing the wildfire.
Winter weather conditions beginning early Wednesday morning helped slow the fire spread as heavy winds gave way to snow and rain.
More than 400 people were ultimately evacuated, a significant portion of whom lost their houses to the fire. According to Mono County Supervisor John Peters, the local fire department estimates 20% of the area’s housing has been destroyed in the blaze.
The Sheriff’s department also warns of downed power lines in the area and asks anyone entering the affected to area to adhere to Covid-19 protocols.
Residents along the Eastside have pitched in for relief efforts, with groups helping to round up livestock in the fire area, gathering supplies to distribute to residents displaced or affected by the fire, and putting together a relief fund.
On Wednesday at 2 p.m., the Sheriff’s office partially lifted the evacuation order for homes on the west side of U.S 395; the east side of the highway from Eastside Lane to Cunningham Lane remains in evacuation status until conditions change.
A prohibition was placed on high-profile vehicles traveling US 395 earlier on Tuesday streatching from the Inyo/Mono county line all the way to the Nevada state line as CalTrans District 9 reported at least two roll-overs on the stretch of highway between Lee Vining and Conway Summit, one of which was a big rig that temporarily blocked both lanes of the highway.
The high winds also resulted in Southern California Edison de-energizing a number of circuits throughout Mono County. Some outages lasted through midnight and into Wednesday morning.
Mono County issued a Public Health order on Thursday afternoon regarding the Mountain View Fire, coming on the heels of a State of Emergency declaration from Governor Gavin Newsom.
New information included in the order updates the number of homes destroyed to 96, a high percentage of which were homes.
Of the homes that burned, Supervisor John Peters could rattle off a rough sketch of some of the folks affected: nine homes were either military housing or civilian employees of the base; 3 belonged to members of the local Lions club; 3 belonged to firefighters.
Peters’ former home on Eastside Lane, now owned by Mono County Tourism employee Jeff Simpson, burned down in the blaze.
Peters said that the biggest challenge is going to be temporary housing for those displaced but indicated the County will be creative in finding solutions – they have the land to situate tiny homes/mobile homes onsite while things are getting rebuilt.
He speculated some may contemplate moving out permanently due to their age, the hassle of rebuilding, the scarring left by fire …
The Public Health order warns of toxic and dangerous elements present in the aftermath of a fire, including those released by burned building materials and household hazardous waste (gasoline, paint, pesticides, cleaning products, etc.)
As a result, a strict no re-entry policy has been adopted regarding evacuation zones, although limited entry for gathering possessions may be permitted in coordination with local law enforcement.
In addition, no clean-up can take place in the area until the county deems it safe to do so and no resources to assist with clean-up efforts (fire debris bins) will be allocated until the county approves of the effort.
Liberty Utilities has de-energized Walker, Coleville and Topaz, and is working with local authorities to put together a timeline for when power can safely be turned back on.
The Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce, in tandem with the Mammoth Lakes Foundation and Northern Mono Chamber of Commerce, has created a relief fund for those displaced and affected by the fire. Those interested in donating can find the link to the organization’s PayPal on the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
Donated supplies will be available for pick up at the Meadowcliff KOA Lodge on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Those with larger animals like cows and horses are encouraged to bring them to the Douglas County Fairgrounds for shelter.
Look for more extensive follow-up in next week’s issue.