The Rim Fire gained worldwide notoriety for burning into Yosemite National Park, the granite-walled wonderland sometimes ranked as California's top tourist attraction.
But early on, the rampant blaze that's now 30 days old descended into another High Sierra treasure, the Tuolumne River Canyon, where four whitewater rafting guides — including a former Occidental man — assisted firefighters in what became a hazardous effort to halt the fire.
Isaac Ingram, operations manager for the American River Touring Association (ARTA), said the episode began with an unusual request from the U.S. Forest Service's Groveland Ranger District the morning of Aug. 19.
“How long would it take you to get a crew down to Meral's Pool?” Ingram said, recalling the inquiry from the ranger station that manages public use of the Tuolumne River.
Meral's Pool is the put-in spot for the 18-mile voyage down the Tuolumne, a stretch that drops 40 feet per mile and is studded with roaring Class IV and V rapids, tops on the scale of difficulty.
“They wanted to get firefighters across the river to cut a fire line,” said Ingram, 31, an El Molino High graduate in 2000 who joined ARTA as a professional guide two years later.
At the time “it didn't seem like a big deal,” he said.
The fire, ignited by a hunter's illegal campfire, had started Aug. 17 on Jawbone Ridge, about two miles up the Clavey River from its confluence with the Tuolumne.
“We told them we could be there in an hour,” Ingram said, calculating the 40 minutes it takes ARTA's flatbed truck to rumble down the rough, 5-mile Lumsden Road to Meral's Pool.
Ingram, ARTA general manager Steve Welch and two guides took a pair of 16-foot inflatable rafts down to the put-in. It turned out the firefighters wanted to cross below Sunderland's Chute, the third rapid downstream from Meral's Pool.
As the two guides negotiated the first rapid, called Rock Garden, a firefighting helicopter descended to take a load of water from the river.