Saving Markleeville a priority |

Saving Markleeville a priority

by Kurt Hildebrand
A helicopter drops water on the Washington fire in Alpine County.
Eddie Sanderson Photography |

Markleeville, Calif. — Markleeville residents were assured Tuesday morning that they would get plenty of notice of an evacuation in case the 16,544-acre Washington Fire threatens the town.

Firefighters asked that residents obey the evacuation order when it comes in order to prevent a panic that might block exits from the town.

The town’s reverse 911 is working, so residents will receive a phone call. Sheriff Rick Stephens said he will send deputies door-to door to make sure residents know they need to go.

He asked that anyone who would have difficulty getting out of their homes to contact the sheriff’s office ahead of time.

“I would rather be prepared so we can evacuate nice and calmly,” he said. “We’re way ahead.”

An evacuation shelter has been designated at the Woodfords Colony and is prepared should the fire get closer to Markleeville. A handful of homes east of Highway 4 have been evacuated, but no others are affected.

Stephens told residents the sheriff’s office will be keeping track of residents who have voluntarily evacuated. He asked them to give the sheriff’s office a phone call at 530-694-2231, ext. 1, and leave a message.

Some of the historic cabins in the Silver Mountain Mining District have been lost, Stephens said.

Incident Commander Chris Wilcox said that firefighters and Stephens are working closely together to determine when an evacuation would be necessary.

The fire was estimated at 16,000 acres on Tuesday morning, firefighters said at a town meeting with Markleeville residents.

“Our preferred alternative is keeping the fire completely away from this area,” Wilcox said.

He told residents he was cautiously optimistic that firefighters would be able to get a handle on the fire and keep it away from the historic town.

“We expect the fire to grow northeast toward Leviathan,” Wilcox said. “Our efforts are focused around life and property, and health and safety from contaminants from the Leviathan Mine.”

He said the mine is clear of most vegetation and defensible by firefighters.

Tuesday’s wind is expected to shift and die down, compared to Sunday and Monday.

“There is a slight east flow, and we’re taking that into account with our plans as far as where we put our resources,” Wilcox said.

“Our biggest concern is thunderstorms forecast for the end of the week,” he said. “Thunderstorm winds go in every direction, so trying to anticipate where the fire will move is problematic.”

A lightning strike is being blamed for the fire, which was first reported on Friday night. The fire spread quickly after starting.

“The fire grew from where it was a holdover lightning strike, to where it was burning a mile out in front of it,” Wilcox said. “That’s substantial growth. We expect to continue to see growth, but we will work with resources, and we have folks scattered all over building and extending containment lines.”

Wilcox said the reduction in the estimate of containment, was caused by the increased size of the fire.

He said that they might be a bit behind in reporting the containment they have achieved, but that they want to test the lines before calling them good.

“We’re moving several hotshot crews to establish an anchor point, so we have something we can build and flank the fire,” Wilcox said. “We are one of the few large fires in the area, so the big competition for those resources is limited. We are bringing in what we think we can bring to bear to stop the fire where it is.”

Markleeville water officials asked residents to refrain from watering landscaping so there would be more water for the firefighting effort.

Several campgrounds along Highway 4 to the north end of Markleeville have been evacuated. In addition, Highways 4 and 89 in the Monitor Pass area are closed. Turtle Rock and Indian Creek campgrounds are closed.

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