Thursday, July 20

Detwiler wildfire so hot it's created it's own weather system

"Sheriff Doug Binneweis speaking now. He says the fire started in an isolated community, Hunter's Valley, a hazardous place for residents"
 -- LA Times reporter Meg Bernhard on her Twitter page at a Cal Fire presser 8 hours ago about the fire.  

By Meg Bernhard, Veronica Rocha and Hailey Branson-Potts
July 19, 2017 - 9:45 PM PST
The Los Angeles Times

(MARIPOSA, CA) It has destroyed 29 structures, temporarily cut off power to Yosemite National Park and threatened the historic gold-mining town of Mariposa, sending its residents fleeing. It’s sent its smoke as far away as Idaho, and it burned so hot that it created its own weather system.

If the Detwiler fire, which has moved with frightening speed this week through the rugged terrain of rural Mariposa County, was looking to make a dramatic statement, it succeeded.

The blaze — which has forced 4,000 people from their homes — nearly doubled in size overnight Tuesday, exploding from 25,000 acres to 45,724 acres, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Wednesday.

By Wednesday evening, the fire was only 7% contained and had burned about 48,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. It was burning about 35 miles west of Yosemite National Park and had gotten within a mile of central Mariposa, officials said.

The flames are being fed by tall grass and overgrown shrubs that sprouted along the central Sierra Nevada foothills during the winter rains, said Jordan Motta, a fire captain and Cal Fire spokesman.

The rich fuel source has created fire activity that “we haven’t seen in the last seven or eight years,” he said. Officials said the fire also was burning in an area where there are many dead trees, killed by bark beetles and years of drought.

As the conflagration snaked through hills and canyons, conditions on the ground and around the blaze became so intense that a large pyrocumulus cloud formed. So-called fire clouds develop when a blaze is so hot that it can create its own environment, said Jim Andersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

“Any time you see a fire with a pyrocumulus, you know the fire is really roaring,” he said. “It takes an insane amount of heat.”

“That cloud was a monster,” said Janet Kirkland, 72, who fled her home on rural Hunters Valley Road on Sunday with her two dogs, Gizzy and Precious.


The blaze, which started Sunday east of Lake McClure, had destroyed 29 structures, damaged five more and was threatening an additional 1,500 as of Wednesday night, officials said. More than 3,100 firefighters were on the scene.

On Tuesday, the Detwiler fire knocked out power to Yosemite National Park for several hours, but crews were able to restore service late that night, said Denny Boyles, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The park’s main source of power comes from a 70,000-volt transmission line, which is not in the fire’s path, Boyles said. But that could change if the fire shifts direction. Mobile generators were positioned near the park as a precaution.

“It’s a fluid situation with the fire still burning,” Boyles said.

About 8,500 customers along the Sierra foothills were without power as crews worked to repair lines damaged by the fire, he said. Power lines also were de-energized to protect fire crews battling the blaze.

The fire has made for a hazy few days in Yosemite, where roaring waterfalls fed by a record-setting wet winter have drawn legions of tourists.


The Detwiler fire has produced huge amounts of smoke that could be seen in satellite imagery near Boise, Idaho, more than 600 miles away, said Andersen of the National Weather Service.

There is “absolutely no rain in the forecast” in the area of the fire for at least the next several days, he said.



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