‘We’re still here.’ Mariposa hotel owner clings to hope as Detwiler Fire rages

Merced Sun-Star

Thousands of men and women fled their homes and businesses in Mariposa this week as the roaring Detwiler Fire consumed thousands of acres of wildland.

But Mary Foster stayed behind.

Foster, owner of the Mariposa Hotel Inn, stood on the balcony of her tiny century-old hotel Wednesday in downtown Mariposa as ash rained down from thick clouds of dark smoke. She had no plans to leave.

“We just sat out here and watched the fire,” she said.

Fire crews fought the flames through the night as they threatened to climb the ridge to the west of the hotel, which was built in 1901, she said. About 4,000 people had evacuated the town Tuesday, nearly emptying the small touristy community, according to fire officials.

“It was kind of scary,” she said. “It was really eerie when you walk out on the street and it’s totally empty.”

Flames exploded Sunday afternoon along Detwiler Road near Lake McClure. The fast-moving blaze raced through dry vegetation and has doubled in size nearly every day and, by Wednesday afternoon, had consumed nearly 50,000 acres. About 4,500 structures were threatened by flames Wednesday, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze was just 7 percent contained and eight structures had been destroyed.

“Closed” signs hung in the restaurants, bars and shops in Mariposa’s downtown.

Sheds and what appeared to be an abandoned house burned down along Highway 140. Many of the houses in the area were surrounded by scorched grass but the structures sustained no damage.

Also staying close to home was Anthony Skogen, 58. His home on Old Toll Road near Mt. Bullion was saved by the efforts of firefighters, he said.

“It was like these massive flames, traveling down, following the wind,” he said. “It came through like a hurricane.”

Skogen spent Tuesday night in the Mariposa Hotel Inn, where his wife, Sally, works. They watched as air tankers pummeled the flames with retardant.

Mariposa was without power or Internet access. Skogen said that’s made it more difficult to reach his brother, who also is his next door neighbor.

The 10-year resident of the foothills said he too planned to stay in town. “Once we leave, we can’t come back in,” he said.

Heavy smoked wafted from the burning trees just west of Idle Wheels, a mobile home park on the north end of town. Fire crews dug trenches and helicopters dropped buckets of water on the blaze to keep flames from crawling closer to Mariposa’s main street.

Fire officials have asked drivers to stay away from the area to allow crews and engines to get in and out with ease, according to Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn of CalFire Merced County.

He said crews continue to aggressively fight flames to keep them from spreading to Mariposa proper.

Foster is keeping her fingers crossed that firefighters will save her newly remodeled hotel and her community.

“We’re still here,” she said.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453