Gray billows of smoke rose above Merced's southern horizon Wednesday as firefighters battled a massive grass fire near the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Firefighters responded to the scene south of Gove Road and Dickenson Ferry Road shortly after 1 p.m. No injuries were reported in the blaze, and no structures were damaged.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten speculated it to be electrical, possibly a downed power line.
By 4:30 p.m. the fire had burned between 75 and 100 acres -- about 75 percent to 85 percent of which was contained. Most of the charred landscape consisted of dried grass and shoulder-high weeds near a wetlands area. "This is out in an area where it's really hard to get to," Mitten said.
Hordes of rabbits and field mice poured from the dried foliage, fleeing the oncoming flames. Meanwhile, firefighters worked tirelessly to contain the blaze. Just a few weeks ago, the firefighters had a controlled burn and training near the location.
Despite the large size of the blaze, Mitten said such incidents are common this time of year. "It's just part of the process, being in the Valley," Mitten said.
About 25 firefighters from Merced Fire Department and Merced County Fire Department responded to the scene.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.