The fires inside Sequoia National Park continue to grow, now burning nearly 6,000 acres. The Colony Fire and the larger Paradise Fire make up the KNP Complex. Monday night, the Paradise Fire moved downhill, crossing the middle fork of the Kaweah River and the Generals Highway. The complex is currently threatening the communities of Mineral King and Three Rivers. Mandatory evacuations have been issued for Mineral King and orders have expanded for parts of Three Rivers.
According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website, these areas in Three Rivers are under mandatory evacuations:
All of Mineral King Road, from the intersection with Highway 198 to the end of the road
Areas along Sierra King Drive, Crest Lane, Hammond Drive, and Oak Grove Drive
Areas along Highway 198 from the intersection with Mineral King Road to the Sequoia National Park entrance station
The wildfires forced the only polling location in the foothills community of Three Rivers to close. Tulare County Registrar of Voters Michelle Baldwin made a last-minute decision Monday to close the polling center. She says the news came from the transportation company hauling the polling equipment that was turned away by firefighters.
“They were told that they couldn't enter into the area and so they were not able to drop off the supplies,” Baldwin said.
In the meantime, voters have been diverted to other polling places throughout Tulare County.
“We put a sign there letting the voters know that they could vote at the Exeter or the Woodlake Memorial building whichever is closest and more convenient for them,” she said.
The Three Rivers Memorial Building where the polling place was supposed to be, is now an incident command center for firefighters. A community meeting held Tuesday night featured updates from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, the National Park Service and Cal Fire. The full viewing of the update is available on the park’s Facebook page.
Because of steep terrain that’s difficult to access, firefighters haven’t been able to dedicate a lot of ground resources, but air support has been used instead to drop fire retardant. Authorities say long periods of drought have made fire behavior unpredictable. Still, Cal Fire authorities at the community meeting said there is better news with the direction of the fire. As it moves down, it’s coming against the wind, against the slope and coming into contact with more favorable fuels that are harder to burn.
The Three Rivers Fire Safe Council, a community fire safety resource organization, said it’s been flooded with phone calls and texts from concerned residents, unsure about whether to evacuate.
Board member Elizabeth Lamar said residents are anxious, especially as thick smoke covered the town.
“As the wind shifts and it becomes more smoky down here, folks get real nervous and rightfully so. If the wind is blowing this way, then what's it doing with the fire? That's the fear,” she said.
Lamar said her organization has been staying in contact with Cal Fire and the National Park Service to disseminate accurate information. She said most are more prepared this year after the Sequoia Complex Fire forced evacuations last September.
“Some of us never unpacked our go-bag and mine has always lived in my car since last year and I think that people are paying more attention this time around. It can affect our community,’” Lamar said.
For many residents who may have to move at a moment’s notice, livestock is a major concern. That’s why Lemoore-based Valley Veterinary Services has offered to help move animals to safety at no cost. The vet operated a once-a-week satellite clinic at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
The Valley Veterinary Services office manager, Torey Hoffman, said once team members realized the magnitude of the fire, they began offering to move animals on Monday.
“We have 14 trucks and trailers stationed throughout the Exeter, Tulare, Porterville, Woodlake area, ready to go. So, ready to haul up and ready to move any livestock - large animals, small animals to a safe destination,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman said the office has coordinated a network of volunteers offering trailer space and a place to move animals. She said volunteers have stepped up to help with anything evacuees might need including shelter.
“We’re all sitting here, waiting, ready to go,” Hoffman said, “We’ve got goat pens, we’ve got pig pens, we’ve got chicken pens, we’ve got dog pens, we’ve got any kind of veterinary care that we need.”
The veterinary clinic also helped to move animals in last year’s Sequoia Complex Fire. Anyone in need of their services can call 559-942-1101. People who have an emergency after 5 p.m. are advised to hang up and keep calling.
According to an update from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, the following communities remain under mandatory evacuation orders:
Sycamore; Silver City and Mineral King Rd. from Oak Grove area at the Bridge east to and including Cabin Cove and Silver City; Three Rivers: Mineral King Drive up to the Sequoia National Park Boundary, including associated structures along both sides of HWY 198 to the Park Boundary. Including, Oak Grove Bridge down to HWY 198, including Sierra King Drive, Crest Lane, Hammond Drive, Oak Grove Drive.
The following communities remain under an evacuation warning: Three Rivers: All structures from Old Three Rivers Rd. and Blossom Drive to South Fork Drive, including South Fork Drive up HWY 198 to Mineral King Drive, including North Fork Drive, also including all side roads along HWY 198 to Mineral King Drive.