Triple-digit temperatures and steep terrain complicated efforts by firefighters to tame a wildland fire east of Jackson that exploded to more than 14,000 acres Thursday evening.
Firefighters initially made significant progress on the Butte fire when it broke out Wednesday afternoon. But the blaze, which began near Butte Mountain Road, grew 3,000 acres overnight and by 6:30 p.m. Thursday, had consumed 14,700 acres with containment dropping to 10 percent.
Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for the communities south of Highway 88 to the Amador and Calaveras county lines, starting at West Clinton Road, Ponderosa Way, and East Clinton Road to Ranch Road and Highway 88. The flames consumed six structures and two outbuildings, according to Cal Fire.
“It has grown substantially,” said Brice Bennett, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
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The difficulty for crews battling the fire lies in the geography, Bennett said. More fighters are expected to arrive in the coming days, he said.
“It’s super deep terrain,” he said. “It’s really a brutal place to fight fire.”
The Butte fire first burned in the Mokelumne River drainage in Amador County and jumped the river into Calaveras County, officials said.
On Thursday, black plumes of smoke and orange flames could be seen in the background of Jackson. Several people parked their cars off Highway 49 to snap photos of the dramatic scene.
Ben Crocker, 42, said he is ready to leave at a moment’s notice. His 20-acre property on Butte Mountain Road is less than 2 miles from the flames. He had not been ordered to evacuate Thursday afternoon.
“Everything’s packed,” he said, while the buzz of helicopters dropping water could be heard above.
Just last month, Crocker and his wife, Danielle, moved into their newly built $300,000 home.
Crocker, however, said he isn’t going to leave without putting up a fight. He used a bulldozer to construct a fire line around his property and cleared the dry, yellow brush.
Crocker was among many in the area without electricity after several major power lines in the area were shut down by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company because of the proximity to the flames, Bennett said. According to PG&E, several thousand customers are without electricity, which is also used to power water wells and septic systems.
Jack Caufield, 75, and his wife, Diane, also planned to stay put unless ordered to evacuate. The Lodi man was vacationing at his 200-acre ranch property this week, when the fire erupted.
“Nobody says we have to leave yet,” said Caufield, who is staying in an RV and was overseeing construction work on his ranch.
The family has owned the property since 1940, he said, pointing to a large field that is typically used by firefighters as a staging area. Caufield held onto hope that Mother Nature would – once again – spare his ranch.
“They’ve been able to beat back the flames every time,” he said.
Calaveras County: Boston Yale Subdivision from East SR 26 to Ponderosa Way, Easy Bird Road, Sierra Lane, Thadeus Court, Center Street; Highway 26 from Highway 49 to Railroad Flat to include all sides of the street; Jesus Maria from Highway 26 to Railroad Flat to include all sides of the streets North of Jesus Maria and South to Doster Road/West Murray Creek Road and east of Hawver Road.
(Amador County) Canyon View, Fig Tree Lane, and Ponderosa Way; The Town of Pine Grove to include all areas South of Highway 88 at Ranch Road and East of West Clinton and East Clinton Road.
Evacuation Centers: (Amador) Jackson Rancheria Hotel in conjunction with Red Cross (Calaveras) San Andreas Town Hall and Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp
Large Animal/Pet Shelters (Calaveras) Calaveras County Fairgrounds. Amador County Fairgrounds.
Road Closures: Amador County – Clinton Road at Butte Mountain Road (both ends) Butte Mountain Road Cutoff at Clinton Road. Amador Lane at Clinton Road, Electra at Highway 49, Ponderosa Road at Tabeaud, Access to Lake Tabeaud is closed; Highway 88 at West Clinton Road, Highway 88 at Irish Town Road, Highway 88 at Tabeaud Road, Highway 88 at Aqueduct Circle, Highway 88 at Mount Zion
Calaveras County – Highway 26 and Highway 49 at Mokelumne Hill East to Ridge Road, Highway 26 and Ponderosa Road, Highway 26 and Jesus Maria; Highway 26 at Highway 49, Highway 26 at Lower Dorray Road.
Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection