Walker Fire Grows to 3,700 Acres, Closes Tioga Pass Road

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Staff Writer

The Walker Fire almost doubled in size since Sunday, growing to about 3,700 acres and triggering the closure of the Tioga Pass Road/S.R. 120 West from its junction with U.S. 395 until at least noon tomorrow, Aug. 18.

Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley are not closed and can still be accessed today via west side routes into the park and via the Sonora Pass Road/S.R. 108 but there is no access into the park from the Eastern Sierra at this time (some escorted access had been allowed earlier) according to fire officials today, Aug. 17.

All campers in all campgrounds in Lee Vining canyon have now also been evacuated. The Saddlebag Lake area is also under mandatory evacuation orders.

The community of Lee Vining is the center of fire operations, but is also on alert should the fire threaten the community. Parts of June Lake have also been notified to stay alert for possible evacuation orders, should the wind shift the fire toward the south. The fire is currently burning mostly toward the north from its ignition site on the north shore of Walker Lake.

The cause of the fire is under investigation but has been determined to be human-caused, according to fire officials.

Approximately 400 firefighters are on scene as well as numerous aircraft, dozers, and engines, according to officials. Resources from Mono County, local fire departments, Cal Fire, neighboring forests BLM Bishop Field Office, and the Mono County Sheriff’s Office are assigned to the fire, including the Inyo Hotshots.

The fire was first reported on Aug. 14 at approximately 9:30 p.m., and is currently burning approximately two miles southwest of Lee Vining. There is also a 75-acre spot fire in Horseshoe Meadows.

Last night, crews made significant progress with dozers and hand crews securing direct lines at the heel of the fire, according to fire officials during a daily briefing today, Aug. 17, at about noon.

"Today, firefighters throughout the region will continue to suppress the Walker Fire constructing containment lines on the west, south, and eastern flanks, supported by air operations," fire officials said in a news release. "The northern flank is showing active fire behavior and has led to further evacuations in Lee Vining Canyon (upper canyon campgrounds) and the closure of Highway 120 West (Tioga Pass) between 395 and the Yosemite National Park. Highway 120 will remain closed until noon tomorrow and will be reevaluated at that time if the pass can be reopened.

"Crews will continue to strengthen firelines focusing on the northern flank. The fire is burning is mixed conifer, mahogany, and brush. Critical sage grouse habitat is also threatened.

"Visitors and residents should expect to see smoke from the June Lake and Lee Vining area and along Highway 395."

Closures and Evacuations:

· Walker Lake “Fishing Camp” has been evacuated.

· A CodeRed Emergency Alert notice has been issued for Lee Vining and everything north of Double Eagle in June Lake (including Silver Lake and Grant Lake areas) for potential evacuations.

· Highway 120 West (Tioga Pass) is closed between Highway 395 and the Yosemite National Park Entrance.

· Campgrounds in the entire Lee Vining Canyon have been evacuated and are closed, including Lower Lee Vining, Moraine, Boulder, Aspen Grove, Big Bend, Junction, Ellery Lake, Tioga Lake Campground, Sawmill, and Saddlebag Campgrounds.

· The Tioga Pass and Saddlebag Resorts are under an evacuation advisory.

· The Walker Lake Road (1N17), the Parker Lake Rd. (1S25), the Upper Horse Meadows Rd. (1N16), and the Gibbs Road (1N18) are closed for fire operations and public safety. All of these roads are accessed via the northern end of the June Lake Loop. All spur roads off of these roads are also closed. The trail to Mono Pass (trailhead is at Walker Lake) is closed.

· The Lee Vining area is becoming a center of fire operations and it is suggested that visitors should avoid this area.

For more information on the Walker Fire you can got to the following sites: Inciweb: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4515/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/inyonf https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mono-County-Sheriffs-Office/597961140216123