Firefighters gain ground on Hunters fire; blaze 60 percent contained

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com pguerra@modbee.comMay 28, 2014 

UPDATE, 7:15 a.m. THURSDAY: Firefighters continue to gain the upper hand on the Hunters fire, with 60 percent containment reported Thursday morning.

“Firefighters continue to build and strengthen containment lines and put out hot spots,” Cal Fire said in an update. “There remains a lot of heat in the interior of the perimeter.”

Firefighters doubled the containment of the Hunters fire Wednesday. In the morning, it was reported at 20 percent contained, but by 8:30 p.m. it was at 40 percent.

Also, the area reported burned dropped by nearly half, from an early estimate of 1,300 acres to Wednesday night’s number: 677. That’s because in the initial stages of a wildfire, it’s hard to accurately tell what’s been consumed, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. “Today, we were able to GPS map it,” he said Wednesday night, which resulted in the more accurate – and much smaller – number.

In an email Wednesday morning, Berlant said, “We made good progress overnight, but with the fire burning near the steep river drainage, there is still a lot of potential this fire could continue to burn. This morning, our crews will strengthen containment lines and we will get a better idea of the progress made last night.”

There’s still a lot of work to do, he said Wednesday night, and full containment is expected by Monday. “There remains a lot of heat in the interior of the perimeter,” Berlant’s update at www.calfire.ca.gov said.

A strike team from Stanislaus County was dispatched to help, Modesto Regional Fire Authority officials said Wednesday. All told, 915 firefighters are working on the blaze.

Windy conditions Wednesday made progress against the fire – which broke out Monday afternoon near Lake McClure – more challenging.

But the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department lifted its evacuations at 6 p.m., allowing residents of the Hunters Valley area to return home. No structures still are threatened by the fire, which destroyed two unoccupied residences and one outbuilding.

Mariposa resident Harold Casto, who lives about a mile from Bear Valley, said his backyard was showered with debris from the fire.

“We had smoke and ash falling in the yard on the first day and I was a little worried, but that all disappeared,” Casto said, adding that he contacted friends in Hunters Valley to offer them a place to stay. “I told them they are welcome to come here, but they elected to stay because they didn’t have any minor children.”

The 77-year-old owns Casto Oaks Fine Wine & Art in downtown Mariposa. He said business hasn’t been impacted by the blaze, but it could affect tourism if people think the fire is closer to Mariposa.

“Business hasn’t been all that dynamic here lately anyway,” he said. “But there are a lot of misconceptions about this fire.”

Terry Selk, executive director of Yosemite-Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, said his group is keeping an eye on the situation and providing updates on road conditions through its website, www.yosemiteexperience.com.

“We’re monitoring it on a regular basis and keeping contact with people in that area,” Selk said. “You never know because, obviously, these things can change quickly.”

The fifth annual John Muir Festival is scheduled to run Friday and Saturday at Lake McClure. Officials said there have been no changes because of the fire.

Also Wednesday, firefighters got the upper hand on a fire that broke out near La Grange in Stanislaus County. The Lake fire, reported Tuesday along Highway 132, was 80 percent contained and had consumed 37 acres.

Spurred by the early fire activity as well as the low rainfall in the past couple of years, Cal Fire on Wednesday suspended burning in the forest areas the agency oversees in Calaveras, Tuolumne, and parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. The ban takes effect June 2.

Bee local news editor Deke Farrow contributed to this report.

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