Fourth largest fire in California history, the Rim Fire’s glow is visible from the City of Oakdale at night and smoke comes as low as Knights Ferry in the morning, but firefighters are gradually making headway.
Covering more than 235,800 acres, or 369 square miles, the blaze near Yosemite National Park is now 75 percent contained, according to CALFIRE spokesman Daniel Berlant. Locally, efforts by community residents have included food drives, gathering and delivering supplies to fire camps and the Red Cross, and making contact with friends and relatives in the area while evacuations remain in effect.
In addition, Oakdale police officers and other support staff were sent to the Tuolumne County Rim Fire on Wednesday, Aug. 28 to assist emergency crews with traffic control and to help prevent any looting.
With an estimated 4,500 residences threatened and a couple of thousand people advised to leave their homes, law enforcement personnel are in demand along with fire crews who are out battling the blaze.
According to Oakdale Police Sergeant Joe Johnson, 11 personnel from Oakdale PD were sent to a command post at Summerville High School to assist Tuolumne County sheriff’s deputies with evacuations and relief for personnel on remote outposts.
Over 4,200 firefighters are battling the blaze which started Saturday, Aug 17. Authorities estimate that so far the fire has cost $47 million to fight.
Johnson said some of the Oakdale units were relieved at 8 p.m. Wednesday and others stayed until 11 p.m. that night.
“We were all ready to serve but fortunately the winds and weather were on our side and the fire didn’t come close enough to town where evacuation was necessary,” said Johnson. “The citizens of Tuolumne City were all very kind – lots of signs around saying thanks.”
By mutual aid agreement, Oakdale officers remain on stand-by to be sent back if they are requested.
Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said police staffing was not affected by the deployment of the officers and that reimbursements for the city’s costs come from the county office of emergency services.
“We value the opportunity to help others and value the help we’ve received in the past,” said Whitemyer.
The City of Oakdale also played a part when on Aug. 28, when Chief of the US Forestry Service, Tom Tidwell, Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Susan Skalaski, and USDA Forest Service Director Joe Millar arrived at the Oakdale Airport for travel to a later briefing at the fire site in Tuolumne County.
For local residents, the chance to help out has been heeded in a major way, with a group from the Oakdale Saddle Club actively gathering food and supplies as part of a drive coordinated with The Yogurt Station and The Oakdale Leader office also offering a donation barrel that was filled and emptied multiple times prior to delivery of the donations to Tuolumne County on Saturday. Full containment of the blaze is anticipated by mid-month, officials said, though air quality remains an issue for much of the region and Berlant warns that weather conditions could definitely impact the firefight.
Throughout the Tuolumne County region, which was bathed in a blanket of hazy smoke on Saturday morning, signs offering heartfelt thanks to firefighters were in evidence, including one that aptly noted ‘Thanks For Kicking Ash.’
Leader Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this report.