Rough fire prompts more evacuations, pumps more smoke into Valley air

A layer of fine, white ash from the Rough Fire, covers a car in Clovis on Friday morning.
A layer of fine, white ash from the Rough Fire, covers a car in Clovis on Friday morning.

The Rough fire burning in the Siera Nevada east of Fresno expanded by nearly 10,000 acres on Thursday, expanding to more than 119,000 acres in the Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park. Firefighters report that containment lines have only been established around 29% of the fire’s perimeter.

More than 2,200 firefighters are battling the blaze, aided by 14 helicopters dropping water on the flames and 18 bulldozers working to cut lines around the fire, the U.S. Forest Service reported Friday morning. The fire was sparked by a lightning strike July 31. As of Thursday, the firefighting effort has cost an estimated $79 million, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

The wildfire’s continued growth prompted a new round of mandatory evacuations of residents in the Dunlap area starting Friday morning, with people along Millwood Road and Todd Eymann Road ordered to use Dunlap Road to get out of the area. A larger area between Miramonte and Dunlap has been placed under an evacuation warning as officials worry about the fire’s potential spread as hot, dry weather lingers over the region.

The American Red Cross of the Central Valley opened an evacuation shelter at the Sanger Community Center, 730 Recreation Ave. The Central California Animal Disaster Team has also set up emergency pet shelters at the community center.

Spokeswoman Jessica Piffero said no one spent Thursday night at the shelter, and no one was there as of noon Friday. She believes this is because the evacuated areas have very few permanent residents, and those that do live in the area have had plenty of time to plan and make arrangements should the evacuation mandate come.

The shelter will remain open for any residents seeking food, information or a place to stay and in anticipation of future evacuations, which Piffero said could come at any moment/

The Bear Mountain Branch of the Fresno County Public Library in Squaw Valley has been converted into a base for firefighters to rest and recuperate.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright put out a call Friday seeking volunteers to provide shelter for horses and other livestock being evacuated from the endangered mountain areas. “At this time the Sheriff’s Posse is moving animals, but help may be needed to trailer animals to safety,” said Wright, who is coordinating efforts with the Red Cross and the county’s Office of Emergency Services.

Fire commanders said they expect the blaze to continue burning west down the Kings River and up the Mill Creek drainage, where the flames are being fed by dry underbrush and dead trees that have been killed by beetle infestations. Crews are being hampered in their efforts by steep, rugged terrain.

Dunlap School evacuated

Due to the heavy smoke and fire danger, Kings Canyon Unified School District closed Dunlap K-8 School on Thursday.

Deputy Superintendent John Campbell said around 430 students will be bused from Dunlap to either Al Conner Elementary in Orange Cove or Jefferson Elementary in Reedley. Extra classrooms will house the students and their teachers, which are also making the daily commute.

"Our staff is really pulling together to make it a normal school day for these kids," Campbell said.

Campbell sent an email to all staff members involved in the evacuation to thank them for their professionalism and dedication.

"Because of all of you, your flexibility and your can-do attitude, our kids are with their teachers and friends being educated and cared for in a safe environment," the email said.

Right now, Campbell said, the district is able to accomadate this daily trek using its own buses. Should evacuations push further westward, the district will have to use charter buses. These buses are already on hold in case of any emergencies, Campbell added.

Smoke hazards

Smoke from the Rough fire is fouling the Valley’s air, with a thick haze dimming the sun and prompting warnings for people to limit their outdoor activity.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has issued an air alert, a notification that the region is primed for conditions that exceed health standards for ozone or smog. But smog isn’t the only concern. Soot and ash are also part of the problem, with tiny particles sifting out of the sky and settling on surfaces across the central San Joaquin Valley.

Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said his office has received reports of ash falling as far west as Lemoore.

The smoke from the fire could linger into Saturday, Rowe said, as a large area of high pressure remains settled over the Great Basin “and puts a cap on things for smoke being able to blow out to the east.” Friday’s high temperature was predicted to be 104 degrees, “but with the sustained smoke we may have to modify that” as sunlight is blocked from reaching the ground.

Things could get better over the weekend. “We’re looking at an onshore flow of low pressure to come into the area that should provide some relief and push smoke over the crest onto the east side of the Sierra and into Nevada,” Rowe said. “We’re forecating a cooling trend over the next few days.” The high temperature in Fresno is expected to be 102 degrees on Saturday, 98 by Sunday and 95 on Monday, “and it just gets better from there,” falling to 89 by next Wednesday, Rowe said.

Weather, air quality affect outdoor activities

As a result of smoke and a high temperature forecast to reach 104 degrees, the Fresno Unified School District canceled outdoor recess and physical education classes on Friday and was adopting a modified schedule for the evening’s football games and other competitions. Football games starting at 7:30 p.m. will be running on a reduced clock, with eight-minute quarters instead of 10 minutes for junior varsity games.

On Thursday, Clovis Unified announced that a Saturday football carnival for elementary grades was canceled, as were Friday cross-country events. Friday’s football games for middle school were slated to happen as scheduled, but with extended water breaks and more timeouts to protect players from heat-related issues.

Several outdoor events in Fresno are continuing as planned.

Executive Director Varoujan Der Simonian said the Tour de Fresno bike ride will run on Saturday with one modification: The official Century Plus and Wildcat Century routes no longer continue into the mountains, where smoke is heaviest. Riders on these routes are asked to make a u-turn at Corral Stop. If riders choose to continue on the original routes on their own, they do so at their own risk – no tour support teams will be available past Corral Stop.

Der Simonian said any riders who preregistered for the event but choose not to ride are still welcome to attend the post-ride lunch at 11:30 a.m. at the California Armenian Home.

The Fresno-Clovis Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday morning will run from 8 to 11 a.m. More than 1,100 walkers have registered for the event, raising $271,308 in the process.

Registration will be available on Saturday. The event is free, but participants are asked to fundraise for the cause.

This story will be updated.

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319, @TimSheehanNews and Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics

Animal evacuations

To volunteer to help with moving and sheltering horses and other livestock being evacuated because of the Rough fire, contact Fresno County Agriculture Commissioner Les Wright at 559-317-7204 or