Firefighters attack blaze in dry, steep Central California foothills from the ground and air

Scott Smith / The Associated Press
May 27, 2014 07:21 PM

FRESNO, Calif. - Firefighters swarmed to the Central California foothills on Tuesday, attacking a blaze that had grown to 1,300 acres in two days.

Officials urged some residents east of Lake McClure in Mariposa County to leave their homes, as fire crews work to tamp down the flames before they grow too large to handle.

In an extreme dry year like this, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said, they are attacking it from all angles.

"We're fighting this fire not only on the ground but also in the air, helping to slow this thing down," Berlant said.

The Hunters Fire ignited Monday afternoon and destroyed three buildings as it spread to the dry brush in steep foothills. Crews had difficulty reaching it, and on Tuesday temperatures rose into the 90s with winds up to 20 mph, adding to the challenge of an already dry year.

More than 670 firefighters on the ground had the fire 20 per cent contained, Berlant said. The cause remained under investigation.

In its third dry year, California has already had 1,700 wildfires in 2014, said Berlant, who compared that with the 900 by this time last year.

"The drought has let fires like this burn at a much more intense and active rate than we would typically see," he said.

The fire has caused five injuries. One of them was an inmate firefighter who was cut by a chain saw, said Berlant, describing the injury as moderate. He said the other four firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Up to 100 homes are potentially threatened, but the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office notified about 50 residents in immediate danger, urging them to evacuate. Residents were called by phone and then deputies knocked on doors, said Kristie Mitchell, a department spokeswoman.

Mitchell said she didn't know how many left their homes. "If they want to leave or not, that is up to them," she said.

Meanwhile, a fire in northern Arizona that ignited May 20 around Oak Creek Canyon continued to grow in size even though firefighters had established a containment line around all it.

The so-called Slide Fire between Flagstaff and Sedona increased in size to 32 square miles Tuesday.

Firefighters spotted a small and possibly historic cabin while conducting a burnout operation on a steep side in the area of Oak Creek Canyon. The crew removed debris from around the cabin and placed a layer of protective fabric around it.

Investigators have begun trying to determine what sparked the fire. Brady Smith of the Coconino National Forest said they have received about 80 tips, but the investigation could take months.

"It really depends on the types of tips that we get in and the information we're able to gather right off the bat," Smith said. "Some fires go unsolved forever."


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