Environment
4:59 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Junction Fire: Residents Recall Flight From Blaze

Oakhurst resident Rhonda Schmitz and her dog Penny wait for the night to pass so they can head home.
Oakhurst resident Rhonda Schmitz and her dog Penny wait for the night to pass so they can head home.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

UPDATE: Wednesday August 20th 9:00 AM - Fire crews made good progress on the Junction Fire Tuesday and the blaze is now 40 percent contained. The mandatory evacuation orders for areas west of Highway 41 have been lifted except for Road 620. Areas east of Highway 41 remain closed. Highway 41 to Yosemite is now open.

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The Junction Fire began yesterday in Oakhurst forcing the evacuation of over a thousand residents, burned eight structures, closed Highway 41 and has put 500 homes and businesses in danger. The fire size has reduced to 612 acres and is 30 percent contained. FM89’s Ezra David Romero has more about the fire that is burning on the route to Yosemite National Park.

A plume of smoke is billowing out of Oakhurst today where over 500 firefighters are working to contain a rapidly moving wildfire. The Junction Fire ignited yesterday afternoon near Highways 41 and 49. Highway 41 is now open through the town to Yosemite.

"You know those California drought conditions that we are faced with, the fire was moving faster than we could get firefighters in the area ahead of it." - Chris Christopherson

"You know those California drought conditions that we are faced with, the fire was moving faster than we could get firefighters in the area ahead of it," says Chris Chistopherson the Cal Fire Battalion Chief over the Blaze. 

The Amberger family were on vacation to Yosemite from New Jersey when the Junction Fire ignited.
The Amberger family were on vacation to Yosemite from New Jersey when the Junction Fire ignited.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The fire forced thousands residents from their homes and businesses.  Oakhurst resident Raylene Lampson was dog sitting for friends when the fire sparked. 

“They were on their way home, but I couldn’t get ahold of them," Lampson says. "So I just grabbed the dog and ran when they came and said you go to evacuate now.”

The blaze didn’t only surprise locals. Theresa Amberger and her family of five are on vacation from New Jersey.

“We were just about three minutes from the hotel and the police were stopping us we didn’t know why," Amberger says. "I noticed some smoke in the distance, but we didn’t know. I called the Hotel up and they said oh you didn’t know. She was like we evacuated, I gotta go and she hung up.

The family and about 100 others stayed in Coarsegold for the night at the town’s community center.  The evacuation center is in now at Yosemite Lakes Community church in Coarsegold.