Thousands of firefighters and nearly a dozen aircraft pummeled the raging Detwiler Fire this week even as the fast-moving inferno consumed thousands of acres of wild land in Mariposa County and doubled in size each day, officials told a large crowd in downtown Merced on Thursday.
Flames sparked Sunday afternoon in Hunters Valley, west of Mariposa and reached 70,000 acres by Thursday afternoon, or almost 110 square miles, continues to threaten homes in and around Mariposa and Coulterville. Both communities were evacuated this week.
A total of 50 buildings, mostly houses, have been destroyed in the blaze, firefighters reported.
That area of the fire is now winding down, according to Bill Weiser, operation chief with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It looks very good at this time,” he said.
A total of 10 air tankers hammered flames with retardant in the Yaqui Gulch region, towards the southern end of the fire, which Weiser described as an “almost unprecedented” number of planes used to battle a wildfire.
The northernmost part of the fire is the most difficult part to fight, officials said, because of the terrain beyond Mount Bullion.
110The square mileage of the Detwiler Fire
Several years of dry weather in the state allowed a more-than-normal amount of grass seed to pile up in the region, according to Tim Chavez, a fire behavior analyst. Some parts of Mariposa County had four to six times the amount of grass as would be expected.
The fire doubled in size each of the first five days it burned, he noted. “That’s really unusual for it to progress like that,” he said. “The grass is the problem.”
Weather analysts say the high temperatures should continue to rise during the weekend, but the good news is winds are expected to slow.
Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies told the crowd that residents, once they are allowed back in, will be escorted to prevent any potential theft from outsiders. “There will be a heavy presence of law enforcement,” he said.
I think we’re turning the corner.
Nancy Koerperich, chief of Calfire for Merced, Madera and Mariposa
About 3,700 firefighters from around the state are fighting the flames, according to Jeremy Rahn, battalion chief for Calfire in Merced County. More than 4,000 people have been displaced, officials said.
He reassured a nervous crowd Thursday that crews are working to save as many homes as possible. “The firefighters are here treating it as if it’s their own back yard,” he said to applause from the crowd.
At one point during the fire, 11,000 homes were without power, but that number is down to 2,300, according to officials with Pacific, Gas and Electric. Hundreds of power poles will also need to be replaced.
The fire has burned grass and begun to reach brush, which burns slower than grassland during this time of year, according to Nancy Koerperich, chief of Calfire for Merced, Madera and Mariposa.
“I think we’re turning the corner,” she said.
For information on the fire, residents can call 844-668-3473.