Dangerous conditions for Telegraph firefighters

July 31, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters are slowly gaining ground on the Telegraph Fire outside Yosemite National Park. A number of people have been allowed to go home, but dozens of homes remain evacuated, and the fire is just 45 percent contained. The way the fire is being fought has been dangerous and quite dramatic.

The hottest part of what remains of the Telegraph Fire is just over one ridge from the Merced River, but a couple of miles as the crow flies, is two-and-a-half hours hike up a windy, twisty, one-lane road that is so difficult CAL FIRE has restricted all access to firefighters only.

The roar of the helicopter's twin-engines reverberated down the canyon as the pilot lowers the SR-61 Sky Crane down below the level of Highway 140 until the nozzle of his giant water bird dips into the Merced.

CHP Officer Chris Michaels has to wave traffic though to keep a crowd from gathering. Even so, Battalion Chief Kenny Prete from the Corte Madera Fire Department in Marin, has pulled over to watch in amazement.

"It's pretty amazing they can do that. Put the hose in there like that. Hover like that," said Chief Prete.

Looking closely, the blades of the chopper are not more than just a few yards from the end of the blades and rocks on the edge of the hillside.

"Yeah, I noticed that was a little close. Too close for me. That's for sure," said Chief Prete.

The Telegraph fire has not burned any closer to the Merced or to Yosemite Park. The leading edge of the fire is now more a collection of hot spots and fingers, rather than a wall.

"It's back in the deep country in there. So, it's a little tough terrain," said Chief Prete.

In the afternoon, those hot spots can flare. So that is why the air show is going full-throttle. One after another, they come in as if hovering a few feet from a wall that could kill them, is no big deal.

"These guys are definitely brave, no doubt about it," said Officer Michaels.

A big part of the northern front of the fire is on Bureau of Land Management property. The road in starts at their regional office. ABC7's Mark Matthews was able to get a few miles up the road before it narrows to a single lane and that's where the Little Tujunga Hotshots from Los Angeles were found. They sharpened their axes and shovels as they stood by waiting for orders to go up the Burma Grade.

With them, there was a fire team that came the furthest from anyone.

"My hometown is Athens, Athens Greece," said Lieutenant John Kolovos, with the Hellenic Fire Brigade from Greece.

Half a dozen of the brigade is on temporary loan to California thanks to the State Department.

"We've got the same climate, same weather almost, almost the same landscape," said Lt. Kolovos.

In the past three weeks, they have been to the fire lines in Big Sir, Carmel Valley, and now to Mariposa. They have two weeks left on their trip, fires permitting.

"USA needs our help, we will be here," said Lt. Kolovos.

The latest on Yosemite is that they are on generator power and all of the concessions are open.

Map of Telegraph Fire: click here

Send us your photos
If you have pictures of this fire or any other fire burning in the Bay Area, we want to hear from you. Send them to photos@kgo-tv.com and we'll feature them on-air and online.

MORE: ABC7's Bay Area wildfire resource guide and safety tips
MAP: Google Reference Map of California Fires
(From the Governor's Office of Emergency Services).


Load Comments