‘Please Stay Out’: Wildfire scorches 11,200 acres in Central Valley, triggering evacuations

Flames from the Detwiller fire spread down a hillside near Mariposa, California on July 17, 2017.
Flames from the Detwiller fire spread down a hillside near Mariposa, California on July 17, 2017.
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A wildfire burning in the Central Valley spread across thousands of acres Monday, forcing residents to flee their homes as fire crews wrestled with erratic flames and steep, rugged terrain.

The Detwiler fire, which began Sunday afternoon, has scorched 11,200 acres, destroyed one structure and damaged another about two miles east of Lake McClure in Mariposa County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Authorities ordered evacuations for all homes on Detwiler, Hunters Valley and Cotton Creek roads as flames burned closer to residential neighborhoods.

The Red Cross opened evacuation centers and pet shelters in Mariposa and Calaveras counties, offering meals, health services and beds to those forced from their homes.

Among them was Janet Kirkland, 72, who was washing dishes Sunday when she noticed a plume of dark smoke above her home on Hunters Valley Road. Within 15 minutes, she had packed a suitcase with clothes and important documents, put her two dogs in her car and fled.

As she drove off, she said, she saw flames creep toward the top of her hill.

“I may or may not have a home to go home to,” Kirkland said, while sitting in her car 16 miles south of the blaze, watching ashes fall around her. “This is the worst one we’ve had in 30 years. I’ve had ’em burn right up to my driveway, but nothing like this.”

By about 6 p.m. Monday, officials said the Detwiler blaze was only 5% contained.

At least six other smaller fires erupted across the state Monday, as high temperatures and dry conditions presented ripe conditions for destructive wildfires. The largest of the new fires burned 500 acres in Fresno County, Cal Fire officials said.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning and asked residents to heed evacuation orders in northeast California, where a combination of gusty winds and low humidity had the potential to trigger fast-moving flames.

“Strong winds could rapidly push fire into close proximity of local communities,” the weather service said in a statement. “React quickly, you may not have much time to leave.”

In Mariposa County, the orange glow from Detwiler fire drew looky-loos to the fire lines, and prompted sheriff’s officials to issue a stern warning: “PLEASE STAY OUT OF THE AREA.”

“Lots of people out there trying to take photos but we would like to remind everyone that fire can be a very fast moving changing situation, it is very important to keep the roads clear for emergency traffic,” the agency said in a statement.

Farther north in Mendocino County, about 450 firefighters tackled the 900-acre Grade fire.

Burning five miles northwest of Redwood Valley, the blaze, which was 25% contained as of Monday afternoon, triggered evacuation warnings in the Baker Creek subdivision.

The fire erupted about 2:50 p.m. Sunday along Highway 101 and threatened nearby homes and structures, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Elsewhere, the 18,311-acre Whittier fire continued to burn into the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Goleta in Santa Barbara County.

As crews increased containment to 49% Monday, the threat level on the east side of the fire dropped “significantly,” prompting authorities to lift some evacuation orders.

The blaze, which started July 8 in the Lake Cachuma area, destroyed 30 outbuildings and 16 homes, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Flames damaged one home and six outbuildings.

Aided by a fleet of water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, fire crews were working Monday to protect Cold Spring Tavern, a historical restaurant nestled along Highway 154.

In Calaveras County, a 55-acre blaze ripped through thick, dry grass in the footprint of the 2015 Butte fire, triggering evacuations and leaving one person hospitalized with burn injures. As of about 7:30 p.m. Monday, the fire was 50% contained, officials said.

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8:50 p.m.: This article was updated with information about other fires, as well as quotes from an evacuee.

This article was originally published at 10:30 a.m.