SALINAS VALLEY — Firefighters battling the River Fire have contained 48% of the lightning-caused blaze south of Salinas, Cal Fire announced Wednesday.
“Firefighters patrolling the fire confirmed that the fire remained within containment lines,” according to Cal Fire’s latest incident report. “The onshore winds from the northwest allowed the fire to travel very slowly to the south within containment lines.”
The River Fire has burned 48,424 acres and destroyed 30 buildings as of Wednesday. Less than 2 miles away, the Carmel Fire has scorched 6,695 acres and destroyed 73 structures and is currently 45% contained.
More than 9,000 residents have been evacuated from the fires burning through the mountain ranges west of the Salinas Valley, Cal Fire said. Some evacuees were allowed to return to the Carmel Valley and Tassajara areas Tuesday night.
Monterey County Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation warning last Saturday for residents living in Zone 24, west of Greenfield and King City, due to the River Fire continuing to burn on the southern end. The area includes Arroyo Seco, Jolon and Pine Canyon roads east of Junipero Serra Peak.
That warning, however, was lifted Wednesday due to the fire’s increased containment.
An evacuation shelter opened Sunday at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City to offer relief to fire evacuees in the region.
The County of Monterey expanded its shelters to South Monterey County over the weekend due to additional evacuations from the River and Carmel fires. The local shelter can provide sleeping and meal accommodations for up to 40 residents affected by the fires.
According to Fair CEO TJ Plew, the fairgrounds was mobilized as a shelter Saturday night by the county’s Office of Emergency Services, which worked with staff to prepare the site. Within hours, the Orradre, Pavilion and Cafeteria buildings and the Livestock Restrooms were fully set up to begin assisting the community Sunday.
“Our team is experienced and works well under pressure,” Plew said. “Producing events like the Salinas Valley Fair trains our staff to be resourceful and make quick decisions. As a team, we have made being prepared for an emergency a priority. I believe our participation in local, county and state emergency training and exercises provides the SVF staff the necessary tools to serve our community.”
Evacuees with RVs can bring them to the fairgrounds at 625 Division St. in King City and check in at the shelter, which is also able to accommodate pets and livestock. Plew said there were two residents camping in their RVs inside the fairgrounds, as well as 38 goats, eight horses, five sheep, a cow and a pig sheltering on site, as of Monday.
“Due to its long distance from other animal sheltering facilities and because the shelter is located at a site with animal housing available, fairgrounds staff and volunteers worked collaboratively with the SPCA for Monterey County and have supplies and equipment ready to house both pets and larger animals,” the county said in a news release.
Covid-19 protocols are in place at the fairgrounds. Plew said the Salinas Valley Fair has made investments in infrastructure that ensures the facility is safe for the community.
“Upgrades to facility restrooms, electrical enhancements, sewer improvements, path of travel, door replacements, lighting, tables, chairs, back-up batteries, mobile hotspots and AED defibrillators have made a huge difference in our ability to respond,” she said. “Thankfully, our board has had a thoughtful approach to facility improvement that makes the best use of the fair’s earned income and the donations we receive for operations.”
Other evacuation shelters have been set up at Carmel Middle School, 4380 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel; and Sherwood Hall, 940 North Main St., Salinas. Plans were being made Tuesday, however, to close the shelter at Sherwood Hall, but the cots set up at the site would remain so it could be reestablished if needed.
Non-congregate sheltering is also available upon request by evacuees, who will be referred to a hotel, motel or dormitory setting after checking in at one of the shelters.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to give back to our community,” Plew said. “We are here to help.”
The county also opened evacuation centers at the Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza, in Monterey and the King City Branch Library, 402 Broadway St. The centers provide information and support, water, snacks, housing referrals, RV camping vouchers and device charging for evacuees from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We will provide water; a cool, comfortable place to regroup; as much information about resources as we can possibly find; free Wi-Fi; copy and fax machine,” said King City Librarian Robin Cauntay. “We can make calls if they didn’t get their cell phones.”
While the fairgrounds can provide animal and livestock housing, the library has the necessary forms and contact numbers available for fire evacuees. The site could also be used as a meet-up area for community members wanting to offer assistance to those in need.
“We can be the ones disseminating any info regarding locals trying to help with use of trucks and muscle and lodging for animals,” Cauntay said. “If locals want to help with supplies for the displaced residents, they can meet up in the parking lot — library staff can’t help with that, as we are too few in numbers and would have to quarantine anything coming into the building — but if social distancing and masks are used for people to help people, they are welcome to leave contact info and make arrangements amongst themselves.”