Mariposa County's Hunters fire shrinks as containment lines grow

Merced Sun-Star and The Modesto BeeMay 28, 2014 

A helicopter with a water bucket works at the Hunters fire smolders Tuesday. The fire was 40% contained by Wednesday evening.

DEBBIE NODA — dnoda@modbee.com

Firefighters expanded their containment lines around the Hunters fire in Mariposa County Wednesday as more accurate GPS estimates cut the size of the burned area roughly in half.

As of Tuesday evening, Cal Fire officials had estimated the size of the blaze near Lake McClure at 1,300 acres, with containment lines around just 20% of the burn area. By Thursday morning, the fire was 60% contained, but the acreage burned had been reduced to just 677 acres.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in the initial stages of a wildfire, it's hard to accurately tell what's been consumed. "Today, we were able to GPS map it," he said Wednesday night, which resulted in the more accurate, and much smaller, number.

There's still a lot of work to do, he said, and full containment is expected by Monday. "There remains a lot of heat in the interior of the perimeter," Berlant's online update said.

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 evacuation order at 6 p.m., allowing residents of the Hunters Valley area to return home. No structures are threatened any more by the fire, which destroyed two unoccupied homes 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.

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

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.

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.

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