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Firefighters Try To Hold The Line As Detwiler Fire Continues

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Assistant Chief of Night Operations Mark Higgins gives the morning briefing for CAL FIRE in Merced for the Detwiler Fire.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

At incident command for the Detwiler Fire in Merced Wednesday - as the fire once again gained the upper hand and threatened another community in Mariposa County - Mark Higgins is scrambling.

It's 8 a.m. and Higgins has been up all night as the Assistant Chief of Night Operations.

The incident commander on the fire is tasked with overseeing the efforts of more than 2,000 people and hundreds of pieces of equipment as they battle the blaze burning more than 45,000 acres.

After day three, the Schilling Road area at the north end of the fire was a priority for CAL FIRE. Bulldozer operators and hand crews spent all night working to clear a fire break to stop the fire's progress.

In a matter of minutes on day four, the fire finds a way to breach containment.

The radio squawks: "It has now crossed Highway 49 north of Schilling Road and made a run for Buckhorn and Schilling area."

"OK. I copy," Higgins says. "We have an evacuation warning for both Coulterville and Greeley Hill."

He's trying to find the tent where breakfast is served, but now walks right past it as he organizes and orders crews into action.

"Six Charlie, six Galt, six Lima. Two EMTs, two divisions, any available aircraft."

"That's affirmative."

It's disappointing news, especially since command staff pulled some resources away from protecting individual homes and moved them to three areas of the fire that were deemed vital.

Though firefighters are chasing the blaze near Coulterville, 20 miles away, the part of the plan to protect the west end of the town of Mariposa is working.

"The Bumguardner area: we're trying to build a containment line and then build enough buffer in so that we have a buffer if the fire runs hard into Mariposa."

An estimated 5,000 people have been evacuated.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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