Updated 10:30 a.m. Thursday
The Detwiler Fire burning near the town of Mariposa in the foothills west of Yosemite National Park has destroyed 45 structures and is threatening another 1,500 homes and other buildings.
More than 3,100 firefighters are battling the 5-day-old conflagration, which has charred nearly 70,000 acres (109 square miles), according to Cal Fire. The blaze is 10 percent contained.
Almost 5,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in several small communities in the region.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency yesterday to speed aid to the area.
"We have over 3,100 firefighters that have come throughout the state to our community to protect our community and to work on maintaining our community by this aggressive fire fight," said Jeremy Rahn, a Cal Fire battalion chief from Madera County, at a community meeting last night in Oakhurst. "And a lot of these firefighters have been out for very long hours, doing what they do and we just wanted to let you know that everybody's hearts are in the game here."
In the community of Planada, 20 minutes to the east, 18-year-old Chrissy Tiner stood outside the Red Cross shelter at Cesar Chavez Middle School with her German Shepherd, Haley. She and her family had to leave their home a few miles outside the town of Mariposa.
“As soon as we could see flames we were like, it’s time to go. It’s not like here in Merced where they’re a distance away. Our hills -- you can walk there. They’re like a mile away. So when you can see flames coming over the hill you know they’re close,” Tiner said.
Richard Smith, 74, and his mom have slept at the same middle school shelter the past two nights. He said the fire smelled like a big campfire.
“But we made it out OK,” Smith said yesterday.
Rick Stanfill, who works at a Burger King in the area, voiced his frustration at the Oakhurst community meeting.
"We're supposed to get paid on the 21st," Stanfill said. "It's really, really frustrating and really, really scary because we don't know if we're going to get paid. As far as I know, we're not going to get any lost wages because we're not working, because it's been shut down. The earliest we've even heard anything about going back in is the 25th. It might even be longer."
Stanfill is worried about paying his bills. He says the ordeal has been hard on his two young daughters.
"They're scared out of their mind," he said. "They're worried they're going to lose all their toys. We had to leave one of the cats behind. They're upset over that. What's going to help us? Who's going to help us?"
KQED's Vanessa Rancaño and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Updated 10 p.m. Wednesday
The Detwiler Fire has grown to 48,000 acres and remains only 7 percent contained as of late Wednesday, according to the latest updates from Cal Fire authorities
Fire officials told a community meeting for evacuees in Oakhurst Wednesday night that the Mariposa County fire has destroyed 29 structures and threatened at least 1,500. That damage estimate could change as more detailed assessments are made.
More than 3,000 firefighters are working around the clock on the monster blaze that has forced thousands of evacuations.
The governor has declared a state of emergency to help speed aid to the area.
Cal Fire officials wouldn't speculate about when they believe the fire will be under control and they could not tell the group of evacuees when they can expect to to return home.
Earlier in the day, veteran firefighters talked about the tough conditions they faced with this wildfire.
"It's moving really fast," Cal Fire Capt. Steve Estes said. "I haven't personally seen this fire behavior in over 20 years."
Estes says this is his 30th fire season with Cal Fire. "We're doing 24-hour shifts. We're pushing all the time."
Cal Fire spokesman Steve Bruno said they've doubled the number of firefighters battling the fire since Tuesday. Bruno says about 5,000 people have been evacuated from the foothill town of Mariposa and surrounding areas.
There has been one injury so far -- an inmate firefighter.
"Our priority is structure defense in rural residential areas of Mariposa and surrounding communities," Bruno said.
He said the conditions this year are ripe for fire: Years of drought and a bark beetle infestation have left a tinderbox of dead trees. And all the rain this year means a lot of grass and brush to burn.
"It is a rapidly moving fire. You have mountainous terrain, plentiful amounts of dry grass and brush, and lots of drought-stricken trees, high temperatures and a brisk wind," Bruno said. "The combination of those factors cause any fire to take off."
The fire grew so much that base camp was moved Tuesday from Mariposa County Fairgrounds to the Merced County Fairgrounds, about 45 minutes from the edge of the fire.
The base camp is like a mini city for firefighters. There are mobile showers, a laundry center and mobile sleeping trailers where firefighters sleep in what one guy described as "coffins." As Bruno put it, this is where the firefighters can get anything they need, "from a tube of toothpaste to thousands of feet of hose."
There are fire crews from all over California here. Many of them just got put on this fire, having already spent weeks fighting other California wildfires.
"I've been on the road since June 25," said Estes of Cal Fire. "I have a girlfriend, and she lived with me through the Soberanes Fire, and she's reliving that. I was on that fire for six weeks. It's tough for me. My son's on a backpacking trip, and I can't join him."
The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office is currently providing evacuation advisories here.
Chrissy Tiner, 18, fled with her family Tuesday when they saw flames cresting the nearby hills. She came to a Red Cross shelter set up at a middle school in the town of Planada east of Merced.
"As soon as we could see flames we knew it was time to go," she said. "When you can see flames coming over the hill you know they're close."
She and her family evacuated from their town about 5 miles east of Merced along with the family dogs, goats and most of their chickens.
"We went back roads because the fire blocked our escape route," she said. "The sheriff was sounding pretty panicked saying there were no ways out of Mariposa. But from where we live there was an easy way out."
Tiner said ashes were falling like snowflakes and she woke up Tuesday with a sore throat.
"We were just keeping an eye on the falling ashes. "
Hines says they don't know yet if their home was hit by fire. She said when they left embers were falling from the sky and one landed in the yard igniting a small brush fire on the family property that her father put out.
"For myself, I am dependent on Jesus and I just listen to his voice," she said. "The only way your faith is totally increased is through trials like this."
KQED's Vanessa Rancaño contributed to this post.
A wildfire in the foothills near Yosemite National Park has already consumed eight structures -- and is threatening 1,500 more in the tiny town of Mariposa.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) posted on its website that "firefighters experienced extreme and aggressive fire behavior" on Tuesday. "Firefighters on the ground as well as aircraft are actively working to contain and suppress the fire."
The Detwiler Fire has burned more than 45,000 acres and is just 7 percent contained, and it threatens "culturally and historically sensitive areas," the agency says.
"I haven't seen these conditions in a long time. It's a wind-driven, slope-driven, fuel-driven fire," Cal Fire's Jerry Fernandez told Fresno's ABC affiliate.
Mariposa is approximately 150 miles east of San Jose.
About 4,000 people have had to flee their homes due to the fire, the Los Angeles Times reports; temperatures are expected to drop a few degrees on Wednesday, but humidity and winds will likely continue.
Cal Fire spokesman Koby Johns says the cause of the fire is unknown, but its speed is due to the region's drought being followed by heavy rains.
"Lots of tall grasses, lots of bushes, and they essentially provide like a ladder to the trees," Johns told Valley Public Radio's Ezra David Romero. "A lot of those trees are dead oak trees, and then you have fire spreading from tree to tree."
Drone Grounds Helicopter Fighting Another Fire
In the city of Saratoga near San Jose, the pilot of a water-dropping helicopter was forced to ground the aircraft when a drone appeared unexpectedly, Ryan Cronin of the Santa Clara County Fire Department told the Times.
"It really put them in a precarious position," he said of the drone. "We didn't appreciate that much."
Wildfires have been especially prevalent this year. Fires have burned 4.4 million acres so far in 2017, compared with 2.7 million acres over the same period in 2016, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Large fires are currently reported in 12 states, all in the western U.S.
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