Families enjoying the July 4 holiday along the North Fork of the Mokelumne River had to suddenly take shelter at a PG&E powerhouse in Amador County early Monday evening, as the fast-moving Electra Fire in the Sierra foothills near Jackson rapidly grew to 1000 acres with 0-percent containment in just a few hours.
Some 70 to 100 people picnicking and swimming along the river were moved by firefighters to a PG&E facility along Electra Road for their safety for several hours. The station is about five miles southeast of Jackson, a father of two told CBS13 in Sacramento by phone Monday evening.
PG&E spokesperson Denny Boyles said later Monday that the Amador County Sheriff’s deputies was in the process of escorting families away from the facility, down narrow. winding Electra Road to State Route 49. Earlier, the man taking shelter at the station, who was identified by CBS13 as John Patrick, said the families were told that the fire needed to pass through the area before fire crews would give them the OK to drive out.
“There are families here with dogs, kids,” Patrick said, adding that they felt protected at the facility as the fire burned around them. “Everyone is sticking together and working as a group to get out of here in one piece and to keep a smile on their faces.”
Shortly before 5 p.m., Cal Fire officials measured the fire at “approximately 75 acres burning at a dangerous rate of spread in dry grass” in North Fork of the Mokelumne. By 7:30 p.m., it had grown to 959 acres, was threatening some 100 structures and had prompted mandatory evacuation orders for the area east of Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County.
An enormous cloud of smoke could be seen as far away as Sacramento, and PG&E said that power was out for about 13,000 customers in Amador County, KRCA reported.
The cause of the fire is unknown, but a full ground and air fire response was dispatched to the river at about 3:44 p.m. for vegetation fire burning to the south, Cal Fire reported. Steep and rugged terrain were making it challenging for firefighters to gain access, but firefighters were dropping fire retardant from the air to slow the fire’s spread.
The mandatory evacuation order applies to all residents in the Butte Mountain Road area, while an evacuation warning has been issued for residents within a two-mile radius around Lake Tabeaud, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Facebook.
After the fire erupted near Vox Beach, a popular recreation spot along the river, Patrick said he and his wife could definitely “see the fire and smell the smoke” before they were evacuated. He said it smelled as though someone along the river might have started a small bonfire. But pretty “quickly,” he said, firefighters swept in and had people move to the powerhouse, where PG&E said it was providing water.
This story has been updated.