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Butte Fire Update: The Flames Take More Homes

Update at 8pm: The Cal Fire Damage Team finds more homes turned to rubble as 252 residences are reported destroyed, along with 188 outbuildings and 17 structures damaged. Cal Fire Incident Command reports the fire’s behavior remained minimal during the day within the fire perimeter.  Cal Fire Public Information Officer Capt. Buck Condit details the fire suppression efforts. “There is a lot of work to be done in the burn scar area. We still have a lot of trees burning…a lot of unburnt fuel that they are keeping an eye on. They’re also reinforcing the lines…doing that with hand crews…putting in hose lines…putting out hot spots.”

Cal Fire Incident Command reports the fire behavior remained minimal during the day within the fire perimeter. Favorable weather conditions allowed crews to continue with perimeter control. Firefighters are working aggressively to continue Re-populating affected fire areas. The number of resources battling the blaze has gone down. There are now 4,485 firefighters, 449 engines, 56 water tenders, 92 hand crews, and 69 dozers. As for air resources, 10 helicopters and 8 air tankers remain.

As reported earlier, Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio confirmed that the Butte Fire claimed the lives of two Mountain Ranch residents. Reportedly, both men refused to leave their homes. In regard to those losses of life, Capt. Condit sadly noted, “Obviously, when ever you lose somebody in a fire…it’s obviously sad news and it’s hard to take. You just pray for the family that they recover from this.”

Update at 6:30 pm: The Butte Fire containment grows to 47% while the size holds at 71,780 acres.

Update at 6:20pm: Calaveras County administrators announced Wednesday afternoon that the county will open a local assistance office on Friday. They are calling it “CLAC,” for Calaveras Local Assistance Center — where local, county and state agencies will be available to provide assistance and guidance to residents who have been impacted by the Butte Fire.

Hours of operation will be this Friday from noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.. Specific hours for Monday have not yet been posted. The location is at the Calaveras County Government Center, 891 Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas.

Calaveras County officials also share the following phone numbers:

If you see trees on a highway, please call Caltrans at 209 948-7543

If you see trees on a county road, please call Public Works at 209 754-6402

If you see any hazardous material or waste, please call Environmental Health at 209 754-6399

If you need to speak to a grief counselor, please call the local 24-hour mental health crisis line at 800 499-3030

Update at 5:50pm: While Cal Fire states that the cause of the Butte Fire is still under investigation, PG&E, while in the field, may have additional information that might relate. According to Nick Stimmel a spokesperson for the utility company, “While we don’t have the facts yet, a live tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the vicinity of the ignition point. Right now we’re cooperating fully with Cal Fire in an investigation of whether this could have been the source of ignition.” He adds, “Currently there are approximately 2,700 customers out of power due to the wildfire related damage. Nearly all of the customers are in Calaveras County. We made great progress last night, restoring almost 2,000 customers, and we continue to be in the field today.”

Update at 3:15pm: Cal Fire has put out a new hotline for those affected by the blaze for connecting to recovery efforts. Here is the information from Cal Fire:

Effective immediately, Cal Fire Incident Management Team I has expanded the Butte Fire Information Line to include the Butte Fire Recovery Information Line. The Fire Information and Fire Recovery Lines will serve as a central information center for residents and those affected by the Butte Fire. For any questions regarding the Butte Fire or recovery efforts, please call: (209) 822-3159

Update at 2:30pm: Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) alerts customers to a water outage in the Sheep Ranch areas.  District spokesperson Joel Metzger released this statement:

“Please be advised that CCWD’s water service to Sheep Ranch was disrupted by the Butte Fire.  CCWD crews are working to restore service.  However, bottled water is available for customers as of this afternoon to ensure residents have drinking water when they return to their homes.  Once water supply has been restored, it should be boiled before being consumed or used to wash food items.  Showers are OK.  Per state requirements, CCWD will test water for potentially harmful bacteria before allowing customers to drink water from the public water supply.  All customers will be notified in person via letter on Thursday, Sept. 17”

The district is providing bottled water at the Central Calaveras Fire and Rescue station 11309 Sheep Ranch Road in the center of town.

Update at 12:55pm: It’s official: School’s out in Calaveras County through this week now.

Joining Vallecito Union and Mark Twain Elementary school districts, which today sent the word out that they are canceling classes until next Monday, Sept.21, Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Michael Chimente says his district has also made that decision.

Chimente shares that the move is due to Cal Fire’s communication that it is keeping the Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras County between the Arnold area south to Angels Camp under an Evacuation Advisory for the next 48 hours.

“I appreciate everything that our firefighters are doing, and…those in control of the fire are making good decisions.” He adds, “I look outside my window today…the skies are blue but I don’t know those conditions that our firefighters are facing to put this thing [the Butte Fire] out, and we’re at the end of the week…I think their call was a prudent call. Hopefully, we can get a handle on this and resume school on Monday.”

Calaveras Unified School District had earlier announced that it was postponing classes until Monday.

Update at 12:32pm: The California Highway Patrol (CHP) San Andreas Unit reports that Highway 26 from Mokelumne Hill through Amador County is now open. According to CHP spokesperson Rebecca Myers, “Highway 26 is open…no part of 26 is closed. Mainly Railroad Flat, Jesus Maria, Mountain Ranch Road and Sheep Ranch Road, into the town of Sheep Ranch is also closed. Fricot City Road is also closed.”

More specifically, the current road closures, as of 12:30 p.m. are:

Mountain Ranch Rd at Rocky Road to Sheep Ranch Road

Railroad Flat Road at Sheep Ranch Road to Jesus Maria

Jesus Maria Road from SR-26 to Railroad Flat Road

Sheep Ranch Rd at Fricot City Rd to Railroad Flat Road.

Fricot City Road from Sheep Ranch to Ponderosa Road

Ponderosa Road from Fricot City Road

Old Gulch Road from Rocky Road to Lwr. Michel Road

Hawver Road 2 miles e/of Gold Strike Road

Now OPEN are:

SR-26 from SR-49 to the Amador County Line (Moke River)

Railroad Flat from SR-26 to Jesus Maria

Ridge Road at SR-26 to Railroad Flat Road

Mountain Ranch Rd from SR-49 to Rocky Road

Avery & Murphys Sheep Ranch to Fricot City Road

Swiss Ranch Road (accessible only from Summit Level)

Update at 11:30am: The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office confirms that a body was discovered yesterday within the Butte Fire footprint.

Sgt. Anthony Eberhardt says,” I will confirm a body was recovered yesterday in Mountain Ranch. It appears to be fire related. An investigation is on-going and more information may be disclosed after the autopsy.”

No further details are available at this time.

Update 10:40am: We have some new video from the Butte Fire base camp at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds. News reporter Tori James interviewed Butte Fire Public Information Officer Robert Richard on topics like the current fire suppression strategies, success made containing the fire, and advice for evacuees that are heading back home.  Click here to find the video.

Update at 10:10am: CAL Fire has released new information about evacuation orders related to the Butte Fire. The details are listed below:

Mandatory Evacuation orders for the following have been changed to Evacuation Advisories effective 10am this morning:

* All areas outside of the burn area

* Areas inside the burn area North of Calaveras River.  This includes the SR 26 corridor

The public is reminded to use caution as electrical service and other utilities such as water and sewer may not be restored for up to a week.

Additional Road Closures

* Sheep Ranch Road at Fricot City Road

* Sheep Ranch Road at Mountain Ranch Road

* Railroad Ranch Road at Jesus Maria

* Swiss Ranch Road at Railroad Flat Road

* Jesus Maria Road at SR 26

Update at 7:30pm: As reported previously, all schools in the Calaveras Unified School District are closed through Friday, and all schools are closed today in the Bret Harte Union High School District, Vallecito Union School District and Mark Twain Elementary School District. We will let you know if anything changes.

Original story posted at 7am: CAL Fire Reports this morning that the Butte Fire is up to 71,780 acres and it is 45% contained. Fire behavior remained minimal overnight which helped crews build a stronger perimeter line.

The following mandatory evacuations remain in effect in Calaveras County, according to CAL Fire:

(Calaveras County) West Murray Creek/Murraydale Lane (Entire Street). Fricot City Road North of Sheep Ranch Road. Fricot City Road is closed 1 mile East of the intersection of Calaveritas Road and Fricot City Road.  Fricot City Road is also closed in Sheep Ranch. The areas north along Sheep Ranch Road at Avery Sheep Ranch to the intersection of Morris Rd/Valley View Road. The entire area of Railroad Flat.

Hwy 26 in Mokelumne Hill at Italian Vista to West Point all areas to include Glencoe, Westpoint and Wilseyville. Bald Mountain Road, Winton Road Blue Mountain Road, Mitchell Mill Road, Skunk Hollow Road.

The following advisory evacuation notices are in effect in Calaveras County:

(Calaveras County) The corridor along Hwy 49 from the Amador County Line south to the city limits of Angels Camp and all areas east of Hwy 49 that were previously released are now under an advisory.  The areas southeast of Calaveritas Road to Costa Road.  The areas along Fricot City Road along the southside to Sheep Ranch Road. The areas South of Avery Sheep Ranch Road to Morris Road in Avery.  The town of Murphys, Forrest Meadows, Avery and along the Hwy 4 corridor from Avery to Arnold, including the town of Arnold.

The following areas of Amador County also remain under an advisory evacuation:

(Amador County) Canyon View, Fig Tree Lane, and Pondersosa Way;  Tabeau Road south of Arrowhead to Amador Road, Ranch Drive and Aqueduct Grove Road.  Hwy 88 from Ranch Road East to Tiger Creek Road (Red Corral and Buckhorn Areas).

Click here to read a rundown of Butte Fire stories from Tuesday.

For Continuing Butte Fire information read September 17th’s Butte fire news story here.