Largest fire in Calif. so far this year nearly under control
More than 1,000 firefighters battled the Mineral Fire, which has burned nearly 30,000 acres since July 13
Palo Alto Daily News, Calif.
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. — Firefighters have nearly put out a major fire, the largest so far this year in California, that sent smoke into the Bay Area for much of the past week.
On Thursday afternoon, crews reported achieving 90% containment on the Mineral Fire, which has burned more than 29,667 acres — an area the size of San Francisco — in the rugged, sparsely populated terrain between King City in Monterey County and Coalinga in Fresno County, about 100 miles south of San Jose.
More than 1,000 firefighters fought the fire at its peak. It started July 13 around the southern end of the Diablo Range, and blackened private ranch lands and federal lands owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
“The progress has been great,” said Stacey Nolan, a Cal Fire spokeswoman. “They continued working through the night, and today are doing mop up. We don’t want to leave the community with any fire or hot spots on the ground.”
She said fire managers expect it to be out by Tuesday.
The remote area near where the fire burned, about 15 miles east of King City, has a noteworthy history. Famed 1850s Gold Rush-era outlaw Joaquin Murrieta used the landscape as a hideout, and as legend has it, hid thousands of dollars there that has never been found.
In 1948, the sparse terrain was the site of a plane crash that killed 32 people, mostly migrant workers who were being deported to Mexico by government officials. Their plane, a DC-3 that had taken off from Oakland and was en route to Burbank, caught fire after a fuel leak and crashed near Los Gatos Creek Road in the rugged hills. Lamenting East Coast news reports which at the time named the crew members, but referred to the dead passengers only as “deportees,” singer Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to a song called “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” which was later covered by Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Tish Hinojosa, Bob Dylan and others.
Cesar Chavez, the future head of the United Farmworkers Union who was serving in the U.S. Navy at the time, read of the incident and said it helped convince him that a civil rights movement needed to begin so that farmworkers could be treated “as important human beings and not as agricultural implements.”
A memorial to the farmworkers, which includes all of their names, was dedicated on Labor Day in 2013 at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Fresno.
The cause of the Mineral Fire has not yet been determined, Nolan said. Seven structures burned. There were no injuries.
Meanwhile, several other fires of roughly 10,000 acres are burning in rural California, as forecasters say the weather is expected to heat up over the next week, increasing the risk of more fires statewide. The Gold Fire and the Hog Fire are both burning in Lassen County. The Gold Fire is 15% contained at 14,500 acres, and the Hog Fire is 26% contained at 9,517 acres.
The coronavirus pandemic is making firefighting more challenging. Firefighters from across the state, and as far away as San Diego, battled the Mineral Fire. They have worn masks when they were in camp and in line for food. While fighting fires, masks were not needed if they wore facial shrouds made of yellow fire-proof material that is a standard part of most wildland firefighting equipment used to keep sparks and embers from firefighters’ faces.
Although winds and temperatures in the 90s hampered efforts in recent days, conditions were better Thursday morning, Nolan said.
“It’s clear. You can’t even smell smoke right now,” she said. “But we are making sure everything is out before we walk away.”
©2020 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.)