The threat of a raging inferno bearing down on the historic town of Mariposa had eased somewhat by Saturday morning, said Cal Fire spokesman Joe Rosa.
Even though the Detwiler Fire expanded by 1,117 acres overnight, firefighters were able to make progress on the blaze that was 40 percent contained as of Saturday night. It was only 15 percent contained on Friday.
Rosa said containment to this point has been mainly due to fire lines that firefighters have set to prevent the fire from spreading farther.
Cal Fire reports a total of 4,645 fire personnel were battling the Detwiler Fire on Saturday, 689 more than Friday.
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With temperatures rising close to 100 on Saturday, the fire attack was expected to be a more cautious one. Humidity levels could drop and the moisture in the fire’s path could decrease.
“That fuel becomes more susceptible to carry fire in a farther distance,” said Rosa, who works for the Tulare County Fire Department.
Near Mariposa, a town of roughly 1,700 people, the fire is still burning, but people were walking around. The skies were blue and not filled with smoke.
Debbie Blue, 61, watched as smoke puffed out from the side of the hill. She was afraid the fire would flare, rising up as it did Monday night when bulldozers tried to contain the fire and keep it from coming farther down the hill. Potato chip-sized embers rained over her trailer home that night.
On Tuesday morning, she grabbed a few fridge items and her dog, Rusty. Her home of 14 years was wiped out that night.
She gets chills just talking about it.
“That water hose wasn’t going to save me,” Blue said.
The flames robbed Blue of her home. And pictures to remember it by don’t exist, she said. As for Rusty, “he didn’t know how to accept all of this.”
She hopes to return and search for her grandmother’s jewelry, at the very least.
“Even if it’s just a burnt piece,” she said.
That water hose wasn’t going to save me.
Debbie Blue, who lost her home in the Detwiler Fire
Janet Kirkland, 72, who lives in Hunter’s Valley, was staying at a makeshift shelter run by the American Red Cross at Mariposa Elementary School. She was evacuated from her home on July 16 when 14-foot flames began burning everything around her trailer home.
“All of a sudden, the blue sky, the bright sun disappeared and everything turned yellow,” Kirkland remembers when she was first told to move.
Kirkland and her neighbor drove to a hill to see where exactly the fire was coming from. They came across a sheriff’s deputy who told them, “You girls turn your car around, go home, get your stuff and get out of here, now. Don’t waste any time,” Kirkland said.
She said a grandson checked her home Friday and then gave her the good news: Her trailer is still standing and her parrot, Rookie, is still alive.
Two years worth of firewood was reduced to ashes and everything outside of her home was melted to the ground, Kirkland said. She said she will be staying at the shelter at least until Tuesday and then will begin the rebuilding process.
“I’m going to rebuild it,” Kirkland vowed. “I’m going to make it better than ever.”
You girls turn your car around, go home, get your stuff and get out of here, now. Don’t waste any time.
A sheriff’s deputy talking to Janet Kirkland and her neighbor
At Mariposa’s True Value hardware store along Highway 49, an advertisement offered free relief supplies to victims and free food for pets.
Assistant Manager Joe Troncoso, 61, who lives in Bootjack, said the store is trying to help neighbors grieving their losses. Some of the store’s customers lost homes in Bear Valley and Hunters Valley.
“You can only share in their grief,” Troncoso said, “But we hope we can help them come back.”
Troncoso said Mariposa is not new to fires. In the past, the same aid was offered across the community.
“Everybody helps everybody,” he said.
So far, 63 homes, 67 minor structures and one commercial structure have been destroyed and 13 homes and eight minor structures have sustained damage. Fifteen hundred structures in the area remain threatened. The Cal Fire damage inspection team is 98 percent complete with its assessment of damaged and destroyed buildings.
As of Saturday, 547 fire engines, 20 helicopters, 89 dozers and 63 water tenders were in use. The cause of the fire, which erupted July 16, remains under investigation.
They all worked together and they were ready for a fight if they had to get one on.
Mariposa resident David Biggins
Much of the area near the fire remains under evacuation orders, and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office is enforcing the restrictions. On Friday, the sheriff’s office arrested two Mariposa men, Thomas Allen, 36, and Daniel Thomas, 38, who were found in an evacuated area even though they had been caught trying to sneak in the day before and their vehicle impounded. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing on closed lands.
The sheriff’s office emphasized that deputies have been patrolling all evacuation areas to safeguard homes and properties, and extra law enforcement personnel from across the region have come to assist.
Cal Fire announced that evacuation orders were lifted as of 1:30 p.m. Saturday for these areas: French Camp Road, Fournier Road, West Whitlock from Highway 49 North to Whitlock Gap and Highway 140 from Hornitos Road to Elizabeth Lane.
Additional evacuation orders were lifted as of 6 p.m. Saturday for these areas: Old Highway from Highway 49 South to Totokon Road and all side roads, Old Highway from Guadalupe Fire Road to Highway 140, Bear Valley Road, Hunters Valley Road, Hunters Valley Mountain Access Road, Detwiler Road, and Cotton Creek Road.
Evacuation orders on Highway 140 between Elizabeth Lane and 1 mile west of the town of Mariposa remain in effect. All other orders remain in effect.
The evacuation order for Mariposa was lifted Friday.
But David Biggins, 49, never left town. It became downright miserable when businesses closed because he couldn’t buy beer, he said jokingly.
But in all seriousness, he said, emergency responders did what they needed to do, even if that meant hassling people to close businesses and get out of town.
“Their job is to keep the streets cleared and they did, and I commend them for that,” Biggins said.
As the fire continued to grow, a stench wafted through near where he lives on Miller Road, a low-lying area with water and where animals come through.
“It was terrible, there was the smell of like burning animals coming from Bear Valley,” he said. “And I see nothing but scurrying animals … days and nights for five days.”
On Saturday, he sat on a bench facing his sister’s business, Savoury’s Restaurant, which was preparing to reopen. He usually keeps up with maintenance and gardening there.
Never has he seen Mariposa evacuate the way it did this week. And he said he knows it could happen again since the fire continues to burn nearby. He gave thanks once again to the thousands of firefighters for keeping the flames away from Mariposa, for the most part.
“They all worked together and they were ready for a fight if they had to get one on,” Biggins said.