Thousands of Californians flee their homes after Detwiler fire doubles in size

A wildfire burning in Mariposa County near Yosemite National Park has forced thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes. (Facebook/jacob.barber)

Eight structures have been reported destroyed and thousands of people were ordered to evacuate by the sheriff’s office after a wildfire continued to grow in the area near Lake McClure in California’s Mariposa County this week. Dry winds are spreading the fire in multiple directions, and firefighters have been able to contain only 7 percent of the blaze.

The Detwiler wildfire started Sunday near the lake and has spread rapidly through dry grass and brush since then. California received exceptional rainfall this past winter, which encouraged vegetation growth. But when extreme summer heat waves struck earlier this season, the new growth dried up rapidly.

The flames are sprinting across the dry landscape. Firefighters are battling “extreme and aggressive fire behavior,” according to Cal Fire. The fire is jumping roads and blowing across the tree canopy, and daytime heating is creating uphill winds that draw the fire with them. The poor conditions led to an exceptional increase in fire size between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Cal Fire said the Detwiler blaze was had grown to 46,000 acres by Wednesday morning — nearly double what it had consumed by Tuesday.

The wildfire is less than a mile north of Mariposa, Calif., which was ordered evacuated Wednesday. The city is home to more than 2,000 people. On Wednesday afternoon, winds from the south seemed favorable for Mariposa, but they are expected to change.

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Over the next three days, wind speeds will remain constant but their direction will shift — from south to west to northeast and back again. That could make it difficult for officials to control the spread of the fire. Humidity is low at 25 percent and will stay that way for the next several days.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Tuesday, which will provide assistance to those who have lost or may soon lose their homes and belongings.

The fire is just 10 miles east of where Highway 140 — which is now closed — enters Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was open as of Wednesday afternoon, though live webcams of the park showed pockets of haze, including one shot of El Capitan obscured by thick smoke.

The fire also threatens power lines that provide electricity to Yosemite, the AP reports.

Thirty-five fire crews made up of more than 2,000 firefighters are working to control the blaze. Nine tanker planes and 11 helicopters are battling the wildfire from the air.

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