With nearly 80,000 acres blackened in Mariposa County, the state's mutual aid system has been sending firefighting teams out from departments all over the state, including one from Ceres, to the Detwiler Fire.
Through California's mutual-aid system, more than 400 local government and Cal OES engines/tenders have been deployed on the front lines at wildfires around the state. As of July 15, there were more than 400 engines, four dozen aircraft and over 7,000 personnel working on wildfires that have already burned more than 160,000 acres statewide.
Currently, the third largest wildfire in California, the Detwiler Fire, is burning more than 68 miles away from Ceres in Mariposa County. The fire ignited Sunday, July 16 near Lake McClure in Hunters Valley. As of Tuesday, the fire had burned approximately 79,000 acres and was 65 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. It has destroyed 63 homes and has threatened another 1,500, according to Cal Fire. Evacuation orders were given for Mariposa and Coulterville during the course of the fire. Firefighters lifted an evacuation order for residents of Mariposa and reopened Highway 140 between the town and Yosemite, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Andy Isolano said.
Ceres Fire Department personnel have been deployed to assist with the Detwiler Fire as part of the California Office of Emergency Services Strike Team. The team of Engineer Juan Montes, Captain Alex Craig, and firefighters Shane Cavolt and David Brazil was assigned to the airfield in Mariposa, standing by for safety purposes as airbase safety support. That essentially means they are standing by in case of emergencies with the aircraft flying in and out of the airport. Over 100 pieces of aircraft have been assigned to the fire between air tankers, helicopters and spotter planes.
The Ceres team is also helping with medical air ambulances that come and go.
"Every day they're handling patients to make sure they get from the helicopter to the ambulance, or vice versa, safely, which is common practice for fire departments," said Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Rich Scola.
The work has been very busy, said Scola, with the air field seeing lots of deliveries of supplies, food and fuel for the apparatus.
"They've been staging at night at the Mariposa fairgrounds, which is where one of three base camps are set up for the incident," said Scola. "It got so large they had to divide the base camps into three different sections. That's where they stay every night."
The Ceres team joins more than 4,914 firefighters battling the blaze.
The four were given the opportunity to join the 14-day commitment and did not flinch.
"Everybody looks to go help out so that's what they really want to do. It's not an easy commitment for sure, especially this one where they're the only unit assigned to this. It's not like they're part of a standard strike team. They don't have like that operating period where they work for 24 hours and they get 24 off. They're working every day for 15 hours."
The team must be released after 14 days and may be replaced by a second Ceres team, if the need still exists.
"We're estimating that our crew will be back by the end of this week," said Chief Scola.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said "Our tried-and-true mutual aid system is working just as designed. We're strategically deploying a lot of resources to these wildfires, regardless of where they're burning. Our number one priority is to protect lives and property using the most effective combination of local, state and federal resources through a unified effort."
Even though Ceres Fire Department is struggling with manpower shortages because of budgetary constraints, Scola said the state reimburses all responding agencies at a higher rate than operational costs.
Gov. Jerry Brown has issued an emergency proclamation for Mariposa County due to the effects of the Detwiler Fire.
Cal Fire set up a command post for the Detwiler Fire at the Merced County Fairgrounds. The American Red Cross is operating the following shelter locations for residents impacted by the Detwiler Fire: EV Free Church, 50443 High School Road, Oakhurst; Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church, 39696 Highway 41, Oakhurst; Mountain Christian Center, 40299 Highway 49, Oakhurst; Cesar Chavez Junior High, 161 S. Plainsburg Road, Planada; and Mother Lode Fairgrounds, 220 Southgate Drive, Sonora.
Volunteers are on hand at each location to provide lodging, meals, health services and comfort for affected residents. Veterinary services are available for animals as well.
The Red Cross urges everyone to follow evacuation orders from local law enforcement and have an emergency kit ready to go for any disaster including wildfires. Visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/wildfire to learn more.
Residents can also help people affected by disasters like wildfires and other crises by making a donation to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. The gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Call, click or text to give: visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text "RED CROSS" to 91999 to make a $10 donation to your local Red Cross region.
Numerous Save Mart Supermarket stores began collecting monetary donations for the American Red Cross fire relief efforts in Mariposa County. Shoppers can donate any amount at checkout. The donation amount will be printed on the receipt, so shoppers have a record of their tax-deductible donation.