El Portal Fire Update

Published 07/29 2014 06:17PM

Updated 07/29 2014 06:32PM

Firefighters are battling a wildfire burning near Yosemite.

The El Portal Fire started Saturday afternoon. So far, it's burned 3,060 acres. The fire is 19 percent contained.

Tuesday morning, El Portal residents were allowed to return to their homes after being evacuated.

Fire officials haven't determined what caused this wildfire. But we spoke with a pair of neighbors who say they saw it all start from their backyards. 

"This is as close as I've seen it get and it's pretty doggone scary is all I can say," says Jerry Rupert.

Rupert has lived in his house for more than 30 years. He says this fire was a close call.

Saturday afternoon while he was in backyard, he heard a tree branch crack and hit a power line.

He describes what he heard: "On the power lines like whoop whoop, and then a spark, and then instantly this fire started behind the house," Rupert says.

He shows us the power lines behind his house about 50 feet away.

Within minutes, the fire spread quickly up the hill behind Rupert's house.

Ron Kauk is Rupert's neighbor. He also saw the beginning of the raging blaze.

"Within a minute or two I noticed smoke come out from behind the house--not exactly behind my house, but my neighbors--ran out there, and this fire was on," Kauk says.

These neighbors, who've experienced many wildfires, say they took to the front lines to protect their property.

"Neighbors and I, we got out here with our shovels, water hoses, and kind of helped it go up the hill," Kauk says.

Fire officials had recommended they leave it to the experts and evacuate their homes for safety, but Rupert and Kauk chose to stay.

They do say the drought has made them more conscious of how quickly and how easily a fire can become out of control with these dry conditions.

"It makes you more concerned about how you're taking care of the area around your home with your grasses, dry grass and so forth," Kauk says.

Firefighters are making progress with 640 fire personnel and seven helicopters working to contain the blaze.

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