Out-of-control fire threatens 4,000

Pastor says community is working together to help those whose homes have burned or are being forced to evacuate

BY PJ HELLER | MARIPOSA, CA | July 28, 2008



"Most people in Mariposa help each other. . . When somebody has a need, everybody pitches in and takes care of it. I think that's the uniqueness of the town."

—Rev. Steve Wass, First Baptist Church


A fire near Yosemite National Park was burning in "multiple directions" Monday as more than 3,400 firefighters battled the blaze. Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes.

"They don't know which way it's going to go . . . pretty hard to tell right now," said Stu Harris, a fire information officer at the Cal Fire Incident Command Center in Mariposa. "It's just not a good scene at all."

"The fire is burning with a rapid rate of spread in multiple directions," the agency said in its morning update, adding that the steep and rocky terrain made access to the fire difficult.

Since it erupted Friday, the Telegraph Fire has burned nearly 30,000 acres and destroyed 25 homes and 27 outbuildings. At least 4,000 more residences were threatened in the communities of Midpines, Mariposa, Greenley Hill, Coulterville, Bear Valley and Mt. Bullion Camp, officials said Monday night.

The fire was only 10 percent contained as of Monday.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Midpines and the tiny town of Coulterville. Evacuation warnings were also posted for other areas threatened by the fire. An evacuation center was set up at the Mariposa Elementary School. A community meeting was scheduled for Monday night so residents could be updated on the fire situation.

Several roads in the area were closed, including State Highway 140 leading into Yosemite National Park. There were no evacuation orders for the park. Power was shut down to Yosemite Valley and hotels and restaurants were using generators.

Officials said 2,543 firefighters from local, state and national agencies were battling the blaze and more were en route to the area. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The battle was being waged both on the ground and from the air with water-dropping helicopters and air tankers.

"There's an awful lot happening," Harris said of the response.

The fire had moved within a few miles of Mariposa.

"People in Mariposa are very jittery," Harris said. "It's getting too close for comfort. The smoke [is so thick] we can hardly see the sun anymore."

"The air quality is terrible," agreed Steve Wass, assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Mariposa. "I can go down to the city and have better air than I'm breathing up here."

Wass said people in the community were working to help one another, including getting horses and other animals out of harms way.

"Most people in Mariposa help each other," he said. "It's a smaller community and the churches are the same. When somebody has a need, everybody pitches in and takes care of it. I think that's the uniqueness of the town.

"I assume all of the churches are doing the same thing: we're praying and lending a hand when needed," he said.


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