Tulare County Sheriff’s Office issues voluntary evacuation for homes near SQF Complex Fire

Lightning-caused Castle Fire has grown to 3,800 acres just east of Ponderosa and Camp Nelson

TULARE COUNTY – A voluntary evacuation was issued for two eastern Tulare County communities on Sunday as the SQF Complex Fire, the Castle and Shotgun fires, continues to spread.

Just after 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux was “strongly encouraging” a voluntary evacuation notice for the areas of Camp Nelson and Ponderosa, located about 45 minutes east of Porterville along Highway 190.

“Right now, TCSO deputies are in the area going cabin to cabin letting people know that the fire is growing and it would be a good idea to leave,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement on Sunday.

This lightning-caused fire was discovered last Wednesday morning and quickly spread in the Golden Trout Wilderness adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest, according to the InciWeb, the Incident Information System jointly run by federal fire, forest and public land agencies. On Friday, the Castle Fire grew to over 400 acres due to steep, rocky terrain and winds. On Saturday, the fire jumped the Kern River and continued inching west but most of the fire spread has been primarily toward the east, away from Ponderosa. The fire is advancing further into the uninhabited Golden Trout Wilderness on the Sequoia National Forest and had grown to 15,000 acres of press time.

Six 20-person hand crews, supported by miscellaneous fixed and rotor-wing aircraft, are working to stop the fire spread but firefighters have been challenged by steep rocky terrain, fire behavior, and winds. They will continue to scout for opportunities to be effective with resources assigned. With most fire personnel assigned to other fires throughout California, the Forest is prioritizing firefighting resources to protect life first and then property and infrastructure.

A second, lightning-caused Fire, was discovered by aircraft working on the Castle Fire on Friday. The Shotgun fire is located where Pistol Creek and Shotgun Creek converge in the Golden Trout Wilderness. The Shotgun Fire is located within the burn scar of the 2017 Lion Fire, the two fires merged on Monday and were renamed the SQF Complex Fire on Tuesday morning.

Emergency closures of Jerkey Meadow and Forks of the Kern Trailheads are in place, current Wilderness permit holders have been notified. Other closures in effect or planned include Trails past Stockbridge to Trout Meadow, Trails from Trout Meadow to Little Kern Lake, Big Kern Lake, and Kern Canyon Ranger Station. Those with wilderness permits are asked to stay informed by viewing closure information on the closure tab on this web site. Forest personnel have been reaching out to known Wilderness permit holders to warn them about the fires.

The Sheriff’s Department also reminded Tulare County residents there are at least six fires pumping smoke into the Valley, including the Hills Fire in Fresno County as well as the SCU Lightning Complex Fire in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties; the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties; and the Lake Fire located in Los Angeles County.

“Please keep in mind that the heavy smoke and particles in the air pose serious health and safety risks to everyone, but especially those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly,” the Sheriff’s Department stated. “Please avoid the area and stay inside as much as possible.”

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board stated on Friday that fine particulate matter 2.5 has reached unhealthy levels for every group because of the fires. It has also made the air noticeably hazy.

“[Particulate matter] pollution can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Individuals with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of PM exposure,” a pollution control board press release stated Friday, Aug. 21. It added that Those with existing respiratory conditions, including COVID-19, young children and the elderly, are especially susceptible to the health effects from this form of pollution. Anyone experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke should move indoors, to a filtered, air-conditioned environment with windows closed. The common cloth and paper masks individuals are wearing due to COVID-19 concerns may not protect them from wildfire smoke.

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