Stephen Churgin got the notice on his phone to evacuate at about 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“I take a lot of medications so I grabbed one plastic big container, put my medications in it, took my valuable papers wherever they were and put them into one bag and a little clothes,” Churgin said.
He is one of about 3,500 people with homes or structures threatened by the Ferguson Fire. A steady stream of cars, pickups and trailers made their way down Highway 49 in Mariposa Wednesday morning after the fire jumped the containment line to the south.
Evacuation Orders now stretch from Highway 140 to the north to Highway 49 to the south.
Churgin’s first stop was the Red Cross Shelter at Mariposa Elementary School. It has capacity for 400 people, but had set up only a half-dozen cots.
Julie Doyle with the Red Cross said 10 people had come to the school within a couple hours of the shelter opening.
“We have a lot of elderly people, people on oxygen, Doyle said. “We have health services on the way from Mariposa County and from Red Cross.”
The Red Cross shelter on Cole Road was close enough to the fire line that it was closed. New shelters were opened at the Mountain Christian Center in Oakhurst and Mariposa Elementary School in Mariposa. One of the classrooms was converted to a dog and cat kennel.
The county fairgrounds is taking large animals.
At the Mariposa Inn Hotel on main street, innkeeper Mary Foster looked at her logbook and saw nothing. She’s offering to fill the spaces she has with people who could use a bed.
“Overall, I’ve had a dozen cancellations in the last 24 hours. So we are totally empty for tonight,” Foster said. “So, if firefighters need a place to stay, they’re welcome to come here. We have rooms for them. If anybody’s displaced or evacuated, come on down here.”
She then pointed to a framed picture of former President Theodore Roosevelt and said, “He stayed here you know. This place has a lot of history.”
Tuesday night, an attempt by firefighters to “burn out” an area ahead of the fire’s southern flank resulted in spot fires jumping the containment line.
“That was certainly a contributing factor,” said Rob Deyerberg, an information officer for Cal Fire. “That happens quite often in a burnout operation where some other areas — because of winds and whatever — may also get some fire into them. But as part of the overall planning and strategy, they are prepared to deal with that with additional backup reinforcements and also putting some lines in some other areas.”
Deyerberg said the decision was made to evacuate the area to allow heavy equipment and more firefighters in the area. By early afternoon trailers carrying bulldozers were headed through those neighborhoods to establish new fire lines.
The fire has burned 41,576 acres acres since it started July 13. One person has died and six others have been injured. Investigators have not identified a cause.