Nearly two dozen fires reported this week in Merced County

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMay 30, 2014 

Dry, gusty conditions contributed to a string of major fires reported every day over the past week in Merced County and neighboring areas.

The Cal Fire-Merced County Fire Department battled a major house fire Friday morning in Winton and a large hay fire late Thursday in Hilmar.

From Monday morning to Friday evening, firefighters in Merced County responded to 22 fires, said Merced County Division Chief Mark Lawson.

“The drought obviously has contributed, but any time you have single-digit humidity and winds of 15 to 20 mph, it’s a recipe for a lot of fire,” Lawson said. “This time of year, we usually start to get busy, but this has been a little bit different this year because of the three years of drought.”

The most recent major fire in Merced County was reported early Friday in Winton.

Firefighters responded at 2:37 a.m. to flames at a two-story house in the 7000 block of Grape Avenue in Winton. The unoccupied home sustained $5,000 in damage, and firefighters managed to limit damage to the home’s first floor, said Jeremy Rahn, Cal Fire-Merced County fire battalion chief.

More than a dozen firefighters remained on the scene until about 4 a.m., officials said. Rahn said the cause of the fire remained under investigation Friday and it was too early to say whether the fire will be considered suspicious.

A large fire late Thursday at a Hilmar farm torched more than $500,000 in hay, firefighters reported.

Rahn said more than 1,600 tons of hay burned in the blaze. He said the cause was still undetermined Friday and it was too early to know whether wet hay combustion, a common cause of many hay fires, was a factor.

Also Thursday night, a large vegetation fire south of Hickman spread to several large, unoccupied chicken houses.

The fire on Montpelier Road, north of Whitmore Avenue, started about 6:15 p.m. The fire destroyed three of the chicken houses and damaged another, which Condit described as 45 feet wide and 400 feet long. It also burned about 2 acres of vegetation.

On Wednesday, fire gutted four homes on Kibby Road in Merced, displacing more than a dozen residents. The fire caused about $300,000 in damage, firefighters said.

At the same time Wednesday, four more residents were displaced when another fire burned four units in a Merced apartment complex. Investigators believe the flames were sparked by a lit cigarette.

Merced County firefighters also extinguished a 20-acre brush fire Tuesday night in Snelling that leveled an empty motorhome. A cause for that fire remained undetermined Friday.

A 677-acre fire erupted Monday near Lake McClure in Mariposa County, forcing more than 100 people to evacuate their homes.

As of Friday morning, more than 600 firefighters remained on scene, including several from Merced city and county fire departments. The fire was said to be about 90 percent contained, Cal Fire spokesman Dennis Mathisen reported.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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