UPDATE: The fast-growing Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County has reportedly consumed more than 45,000 acres as Wednesday morning.
The estimate of 45,724 acres is a startling jump from the 25,000-acre estimate made by CalFire Tuesday night. Estimated containment of the blaze ticked up from 5% to 7%.
Evacuations continued for the town of Mariposa. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency Tuesday afternoon, freeing up state resources, including the National Guard.
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Evacuations here were underway Tuesday and Highways 140 and 49 were closed to traffic because of the growing Detwiler Fire.
The evacuation warning was called shortly after noon Tuesday, when the fire jumped the highways and roared to the Mount Bullion and Highway 49 cutoff, a couple miles north of Mariposa.
With winds whipping up as they typically do in the mid-afternoon, concern was growing among fire officials that the fire would cross Agua Fria Road, then Yaqui Gulch Road to the southeast. If that happens, it can move swiftly east toward Mariposa County Fairgrounds two miles away.
As of Tuesday evening, the fire had grown to 25,000 acres. The blaze is threatening hundreds of homes. Eight structures have been destroyed and one damaged.
Cal Fire officials said the fire was spreading at a moderate pace, about 1 mile per hour. Still, firefighters struggled to fight the blaze, which was only 5 percent contained.
“It’s significantly larger than we expected,” said Jordan Motta, a Cal Fire public information officer.
Evacuations were being extended to the Mormon Bar area, south of the fairgrounds by mid-afternoon. Former congressman George Radanovich, whose winery is south of Mariposa, was among those evacuating.
Evacuation centers are set up at EV Free Church in Oakhurst, Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church in Oakhurst and Cesar Chavez Junior High School in Planada. A Mariposa Elementary School evacuation center was moved because of the approaching fire.
As firefighters tried to keep the fire from breaking its lines, the concern was that a break could rush the flames toward Mariposa and Yosemite National Park, causing damage similar in scale to the 2013 Rim Fire, which gobbled up a quarter-million acres inside and outside the park. Power in Yosemite was on and off all day Tuesday as the fire encroached on the park’s main source of power, which follows the Merced River through Mariposa to Merced. The park remained open. Visitors were advised to avoid Highway 140, which was closed from the fire, and to use Highways 41 and 120 instead.
The fire began Sunday in Hunters Valley near Lake McClure and has doubled in size each night since. Nearly 1,000 firefighters from across the state were fighting the flames as of Tuesday afternoon using 100 engines and nine air tankers, including several jets.
Blow to tourism
In the town of Mariposa, the Detwiler Fire was causing headaches for business owners and residents who normally would be basking in the busiest time of year for tourism.
Business owners were trying to help customers and to accommodate employees who had to leave work because they have to pack up their homes.
There are a lot of customers coming in and stocking up and our employees are leaving because they are being evacuated.
Stephanie Martins, Pioneer Market in Mariposa
“There are a lot of customers coming in and stocking up and our employees are leaving because they are being evacuated,” said Stephanie Martins, who works at the Pioneer Market near Highways 49 and 140 in Mariposa. “A lot of customers and not a lot of employees.”
And those leaving are stocking up, she said.
“They want water, pet food, fruits and vegetables and non-perishables,” Martins said.
People were stocking up at Grizzly Gas on Highway 140, though the main highways are closed.
“I got everybody coming in here,” clerk Brian Redding said.
At Comfort Inn in downtown Mariposa, patrons were checking out and others were calling about their reservations, said Monica Martin, a front desk clerk.
“People are trying to leave and find lodging for other people,” she said.
As she put the phone down, a customer was overheard saying “we may be getting an evacuation notice at any time.”
Martin added: “We will try to help as best we can … this is really crazy right now.”
Hectic pace for residents
As ash rained down on Mariposa and the skies gradually darkened with smoke, residents hurried in all directions to place their most important possessions in cars to leave town.
Several dozen people were getting help at the makeshift evacuation center set up by the Red Cross at Mariposa Elementary School, which was later closed.
Joey Street, 49, a tree trimmer who’s lived in Mariposa for about 25 years, was among them, waiting to be bused to another evacuation center in Oakhurst.
“(Firefighters) don’t have control of it now, so they’d better be safe than sorry,” Street said. He was helping other people at the evacuation center load items onto their cars. The conditions significantly worsened from Monday to Tuesday, he said.
“Yesterday it didn’t look too bad, today you can’t even see Mt. Bullion right now, which tells me it’s getting closer,” Street said. “More ash falling from the sky tells me it’s getting closer.”
Around 12:30 p.m., Kathleen Leavitt, 49, closed her shop, Mariposa Shipping Co., because she got a warning on her phone that the town would need to evacuate.
“With the town on ‘evacuation,’ I don’t want to keep my employees here,” Leavitt said. “And I do want to, if it gets worse, go and be able to get into my house.”
Leavitt said she lives in a stucco home and was going to make sure embers were not falling on her yard. She lives only with her pet dog and some chickens, but she wasn’t planning on immediate evacuation like others.
“I hope to heck they’re going to get a bunch of aircraft back in here and drop a lot of retardant and keep (the fire) from hitting town,” she said. “They’ve got a whole bunch of resources.”
But Leavitt admitted that if the fire climbed over the mountain ridge near Mariposa, “all bets are off.”
Several businesses closed early and then came the power outages. Hardly anyone was walking in town and gas stations were crowded with residents hitting the road.
Mark Couch, 47, who is homeless, said he had been staying at Mariposa’s Heritage House, a home for recovering addicts and homeless people.
He said he was up at 6 a.m. Tuesday and that it felt like any other day. Then he was told he needed to plan on leaving town. He was also at the evacuation center at the elementary school, where he was fed. He said his ride out of town will be the bus.
“I hope (the fire) is put out as soon as possible,” Couch said. “We don’t need to lose Mariposa, because this is about the only place I’ve got.”
Evacuations were underway in:
▪ Town of Mariposa;
▪ Mount Bullion area;
▪ Mount Bullion Ridge Road, from Highway 49 north to CYA Road;
▪ Old Toll Road between Corbett Creek and Highway 49 north, including Corbett Creek Road; Mount Gains Road to No. 9 Road;
▪ Mount Bullion Cutoff Road to Agua Fria Road from Highway 49 north to Highway 140; Highway 49 north to Baxby Ridge Road to Agua Fria Road;
▪ Highway 49 north from Mount Bullion Ridge Road to Old Toll Road;
▪ Pendola Garden Road form Highway 49 north to Old Toll Road.
For current road closures and evacuations, see www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/1672.
Fouling the air
Plumes of smoke from the Detwiler Fire were visible as far away as Fresno.
Air quality throughout the Valley has been impacted by the growing fire, forcing the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to issue a health caution as ash continues to fall from the sky.