Growth of the massive Detwiler Fire has slowed, allowing fire officials to lift some evacuation orders and giving once-threatened areas of Mariposa County a chance to return to normal.
Containment lines have been extended around 40 percent of the 76,000-acre blaze as of Sunday. Fire officials said the blaze grew by just 500 acres overnight. But Cal Fire officials warned that it could take another two weeks before crews will have the fire completely under control.
A community meeting is scheduled for Monday night at the Greeley Hill Community Club, 10332 Fiske Road. Area residents will be briefed on the fire situation and have a chance to question fire officials.
Fire spokesman Andy Isolano said containment lines have been holding, helping fire crews to limit the spread of flames Sunday.
Hot spots are still burning, while some spots within the burn area were never touched by flames. Isolano, on loan from the Clovis Fire Department to assist Cal Fire, said wind shifts may have spared those areas from the blaze.
Still, Cal Fire fears hot weather could worsen fire conditions. Triple digit heat lowers the humidity and dries vegetation, making it burn easier, according to Cal Fire.
Although the fire continues to spread, Cal Fire said it has been slower to reach shrubs and tall grass on the hills because of the work firefighters have done in areas ahead of the fire’s path.
Evacuations in downtown Coulterville and in Tuolomne County were lifted Sunday. And the historic town of Mariposa breathed a little easier through the weekend, both because flames that had shrouded the town in smoke had moved away, and because the skies were blue and the air no longer choked with ash.
Isolano said Cal Fire was encouraging residents and businesses in Mariposa to return to normal. The evacuation order for Mariposa was lifted Friday and by Saturday, traffic began flowing through town.
And with lifted evacuations came the flow of money again for some Mariposa businesses. The Happy Burger Diner along Highway 49 is typically busy with guests traveling through the town. Night shift manager Erica Redding was quick to say how well the diner was doing again since they reopened Saturday morning.
“We’re actually super busy,” she said Sunday. “Extremely busy.”
Closing time at the diner is 9 p.m., but on Tuesday it was 5:30 p.m., Redding said. The diner was running on generators and couldn’t stay open much longer that day because evacuations had been ordered, she said.
Redding said a generator was used to keep the food supply fresh. Unlike other businesses she heard of, Redding said the Happy Burger Diner did not have to throw out much produce, only “a little bit.”
When the diner reopened Saturday at 6 a.m., a combination of Mariposa residents and visitors passing through town starting to pour back in along with an early-morning shipment of produce. Redding said she was still serving guests past 9:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’ve been pretty striving,” she said. And she added that some tourists who stop at the diner have no clue that the town had even been evacuated earlier in the week.
The customers that Yosemite Inn Motel worker Alka Joshi saw Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were not checking in. Instead, they were checking out. She said the evacuation order on Tuesday emptied the motel.
“We were completely closed” until Thursday, when the motel reopened, she said. Joshi said Sunday that she once again was operating business as usual. Eleven guests were staying there on Saturday. She had eight customers on Sunday. And Joshi said she never left Mariposa because she needed to stay behind to check out customers who were afraid the fire could reach town.
Like Joshi, some people in areas where the fire became a threat ignored evacuation orders and never left, Isolano said. So crews worked to make sure those people remained safe as the fire threatened. There have been no reported injuries so far.
Two men, Thomas Allen, 36, and Daniel Thomas, 38, both of Mariposa, were arrested Friday night after they were found in an evacuated area even though they had been caught trying to sneak in the day before. the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said. They were charged with trespassing on closed lands.
Cal Fire announced that evacuation orders were lifted as of 1:30 p.m. Saturday for 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.
Areas like Hunter Valley and Bear Valley are still being examined by PG&E, which was expected to restore power soon to those areas. Cal Fire, whose inspection team was assessing damaged and destroyed buildings, will allow residents back to check on their homes when it is safe, a Cal Fire news update said.
Cal Fire said the fire incident began in the area of Hunters Valley. When it started about a week ago, it had forced evacuations of residents near Lake McClure. Over several nights, the fire nearly doubled in size.
Since the fire started, 63 single family homes have been destroyed. Thirteen more homes sustained damaged. More than 4,700 fire personnel are still fighting the fire as of Sunday. Containment is expected by Aug. 5. The cost to fight the Detwiler Fire is estimated at about $10.7 million, according to fire officials.