There was “no need” to evacuate the Mariposa County Detention Facility on Thursday, officials said, as the Detwiler Fire swelled to one of the largest wildfires burning in California, despite questions and concerns raised by inmates’ relatives.
Nearly all of Mariposa was evacuated Tuesday as the fire threatened to tear through the historic community about 40 miles southwest of Yosemite National Park. That evacuation order remained in place Thursday.
CalFire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn said, as of Thursday, officials did not believe evacuating the jail on Highway 49 would be necessary.
“There are plans in place that would be coordinated by the (Mariposa) Sheriff’s Office in the event that becomes necessary, but firefighters are in that area right now improving conditions and making progress,” Rahn said, adding that a CalFire headquarters across the street from the jail remains staffed.
Mariposa County sheriff’s officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
CalFire officials said firefighters have made good progress in areas near the jail and said the fire on Thursday was moving away from the facility.
Authorities confirmed the jail in Mariposa, which has a capacity of about 58 inmates, had power and access to backup generators if needed.
Merced County Undersheriff Jason Goins confirmed there were plans for a jail evacuation, and Merced’s John Latorraca Correctional Facility could house about 20 to 30 inmates if needed.
“We told them we’re prepared to help, but we’ve received no indication that inmates will be moved at this time,” Goins said Thursday.
Tony Botti, spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, also said jail facilities in Fresno County “would be ready if needed.”
CalFire officials seemed upbeat Thursday over progress made against the wildfire, which has consumed more than 70,000 acres of wildland since Sunday afternoon, but said the fight is far from over with containment estimated at about 10 percent.
“Right now the jail and the hospital in Mariposa are sheltering in place,” Rahn said. “Protecting life obviously is our No. 1 priority, and if it becomes necessary to move (inmates) we’d coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Mercedes Marroquin’s brother-in-law is an inmate at the jail, and she was frustrated and worried that jail inmates hadn’t been moved..
“We’re hearing how everyone is concerned about the (air quality) from the ash and smoke for people who are 100 miles away, but (the inmates) are in Mariposa with the fire and they’re not moving them,” Marroquin said in a telephone interview.
Officials with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District have issued health cautions in connection with the Detwiler Fire.
“Under these weather conditions, the Detwiler Fire’s smoke may be affecting foothill/mountains and across the Valley Air Basin,” officials said Thursday in a news release. “The existing health caution will remain in place and smoke impacts will continue until the fires are extinguished.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482