DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Residents watch a wall of wind driven flames approach their trailer home on Erico Drive, south of Avenue 17, Friday afternoon. The fire burned through at least 100 acres before being extinguished.
Gusty winds fanned flames through nearly 100 acres of tall pasture grass just south of Avenue 17 in the area of Chapin Street and north Road 28, according to the Madera County Fire Department.
The black smoke plume appeared suddenly over the County Club Drive area Friday afternoon and drew scores of curious onlookers, clogging roadways for emergency vehicles.
CalFire Battalion Chief James Forga said the fire started about 4:15 p.m., affected multiple property owners and came within feet of occupied homes before being extinguished about 8 p.m. by fire crews.
“The cause is undetermined,” Forga said. “Several occupied structures were threatened by the wind-driven fire. It appears to have started in the 27000 block of Avenue 17 and rapidly burned south through debris and the adjacent pastures. The fire destroyed one out-building, one RV and at least 11 stored vehicles. No injuries were reported.”
Residents watched anxiously as the strong wind gusts changed directions several times and drove the 6- to 8-foot wall of flames rapidly towards their yards and homes.
Some chose to stay, and used shovels, garden hoses and buckets of water to try and extinguish the fire as firefighters chased the rapidly spreading line of flames. Others loaded pets into their cars and fled as the heavy smoke blanketed the area.
Forga said some of the residents in the area of the fire’s origin were uncooperative, but ultimately the spread of the fire was stopped in adjacent pastures by other residents who used tractors to plow and lay fresh disk lines.
“Other nearby residents had already mowed or done their clearances,” he said, “that prevented the fire from reaching into their yards and homes. It’s an early (fire) season this year but with the large amount of rain and (vegetation) growth we’ve had, all residents need to be prepared (for wildfire) now.”
Stored wood, hay and manure piles on adjacent properties smoldered and caught fire, prompting the relocation of livestock.
Residents said they had seen and had problems with many squatters living in the area and around the railroad tracks over the years.
“We report them and nobody ever does anything,” said one landowner. “Stealing ... piles of trash and (probably) drugs. It’s always a big mess over there.”
Seven area fire engines, two water tenders, some from as far away as Raymond and O’Neils, along with 10 volunteer paid call county firefighters worked to extinguish the flames and mop up hot spots into the night.