UPDATE: Drought, dry vegetation factors in 400-acre Merced County fire

vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.July 25, 2014 

A fire that grew to 400 acres on Merced County’s west side was fully contained around 5 p.m. Friday but continued to burn into the evening.

Cal Fire firefighters said they will remain on scene throughout the weekend, and it's still unknown when the fire will be fully controlled.

Firefighters were able to save 32 structures used for duck hunters thought to have been in jeopardy, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn.

No injuries were reported and no structures were damaged in the blaze, reported around noontime Thursday near Gun Club Road and Santa Fe Grade, between Gustine and Los Banos, according to Cal Fire.

Later Thursday afternoon, the fire had grown from a few acres to about 80 acres, with more than 50 firefighters battling the blaze. Los Banos Fire Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided assistance, according to Division Chief Mark Lawson.

Rahn said the fire was greatly exacerbated by the drought and the amount of dry vegetation. He said windy conditions and the remote location also posed problems for firefighters.

Dry conditions also forced firefighters to use more tools during the mop-up stage in an effort to conserve water, Rahn said.

More than 20 firefighters battled the blaze throughout Friday.

Although the cause of the fire remains under investigation, Lawson said the fire might be connected to a blaze that was sparked by commercial equipment earlier this week.

About six water tenders, 12 engines and two battalion chiefs responded to the fire.

Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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