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Manteca couple flees Rim Fire
Firefighters battle to save Pine Mountain Lake homes
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Thick smoke from the raging Rim Fire in and around Yosemite creates an eerie picture of the setting sun. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin

PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE – While many residents at the gated golf community of Pine Mountain Lake scrambled to move out of harm’s way from the raging Rim Fire inferno in and around Yosemite National Park over the weekend, Melvin and Joan Kauffman were monitoring the situation from their home in Manteca.

They had no less apprehension and concern as the fire threatened residents, including several friends and neighbors.

The Kauffmans, longtime business owners in the Manteca and Lathrop area, voluntarily evacuated their Pine Mountain home on Friday morning, just hours after fire authorities knocked on their door about 8 o’clock the night before warning residents to prepare for evacuation, or to do so voluntarily right away. That day the Rim Fire was only 1 percent contained, downgraded from 5 percent containment the day before, demonstrating the growing gravity of the situation. At the same time, the raging inferno was greedily gobbling in its fiery path thousands of more acres. By Saturday, California’s 15th largest fire in the Golden State’s history has burned nearly 225 square miles.

 The Kauffmans decided to play it safe and not wait until the evacuation order became mandatory. With the help of friends and three workers from Delta A/C Supply on West Yosemite Avenue, the business that the couple has owned for several decades, irreplaceable valuables were loaded into a company van. From the back patio of the Kauffmans’ home located next to the golf course’s second fairway, the bank of smoke on the horizon coming from the Rim Fire continued to spread and rise thousands of feet into the Mother Lode sky. Every few minutes, firefighting planes flew overhead. Their dreadful drones emphasized the quiet eeriness of the unusually quiet greens, now completely devoid of happy summer players.

Over the weekend, fire authorities met and talked with the remaining homeowners at Pine Mountain Lake. They were informed that firefighters were working hard and hoping to save their community, with their location in relation to the fire working to their advantage at that moment – unless, the wind changed its course and directly threatened Pine Mountain Lake.

Like the rest of the evacuees driven from their homes by the Rim Fire, the Kauffmans wait each day for word that will hopefully tell them it was safe for them to go back to their homes.

“We’ll have to wait for” the order to return to their mountain home, said a concerned but hopeful Joan Kauffman.

And that’s all they can do right now – “just wait and see,” she said from their home in Manteca.

Warnings to motorists are posted along Highway 120 on the way to Yosemite near the Old and New Priest Grade warning them of detours ahead due to the fire.

More than 2,800 firefighters continue to battle the raging Rim Fire, which is just one of the nearly two-dozen fires concurrently buffeting the Golden State.

All around Groveland, residents were hanging handmade posters thanking all the brave firefighters for their tireless efforts. Among them were firefighters from the Manteca and Ripon fire departments, the Manteca-Lathrop Fire District and other fire districts in San Joaquin County. Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters is coordinating the San Joaquin County fire departments’ strike team.