It was a day of mixed emotions as firefighters battled the Detwiler Fire near Mariposa and Yosemite National Park on Thursday. While the blaze showed very minor growth in acreage, and officials have spoken positively about gaining a hold on the inferno, Cal Fire confirmed the flames have turned more than 100 buildings to ash, at least 50 of them once occupied by families.
While the inferno grew by less than 600 acres over the day, from 70,000 in the morning to 70,596 in the evening, it destroyed 50 single family residences, damaged 11 more, and scorched 49 minor structures. Previous counts from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office had the total at eight homes lost to the flames.
The fire was 10% contained, with 3,737 personnel, 462 engines, and more than a dozen aircraft at work to try and halt its rampage north towards Coulterville, and south past Mariposa. Cal Fire said 1,500 structures were still under threat, and the expected containment date of July 25 was changed to Aug. 5.
More than 5,000 people have been forced from their homes as the inferno, which started July 16 a few miles east of Lake McClure - northwest of downtown Mariposa - began to spread more than 100 square miles largely to the north and south.
Mariposa, Coulterville, and most surrounding areas - such as Catheys Valley or Greeley Hill - remain under full evacuation orders.
Isaac Sanchez, a Cal Fire public information officer working with its Incident Management Team, said the rise in lost homes isn’t due to a change in the fire’s behavior.
Instead, he said it’s because damage inspection teams have begun to access areas that were previously under threat.
“This count is from day one,” Sanchez said. “They have to wait until an area is safe, which could be days later, so you might see a jump from yesterday to today ... the increase is not indicative of an increase in fire activity.”
Despite the lost homes, Sanchez said showed a “small victory” as its minimal increase of 596 acres was starkly different than a fire that burned more than 20,000 acres in one night.
“This is certainly a good sign, but we all know this is California,” said Sanchez, normally based in San Diego. “Just because the weather was nice and was cooperating today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. We take our victories where we can, and we’ll be taking advantage of them to increase our efforts to stop this fire.”
Sanchez said inspection teams have not provided information on which homes were destroyed, or what areas suffered the most significant losses.
That has left many evacuees searching for answers on whether they still have a place to call home, with at least one seen weeping in the streets of Oakhurst.
“Not being able to know is tearing people apart,” one Mariposa County resident said at a community meeting in Merced on Thursday. “Not knowing is killing us inside.”
Cal Fire has its own 24-hour fire information line at 1-844-MMU-FIRE (1-844-668-3473), where some assistance may be found.
For a full list of evacuations and road closures, including extensive portions of highways 49, 140, and 132 in the Mariposa area, click here.
The Red Cross has established evacuation centers at:
☆ Evangelical Free Church, 50443 School Road (427), Oakhurst
☆ Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church, 39696 Highway 41, Oakhurst
☆ Mountain Christian Center, 40299 Highway 49, Oakhurst
☆ North Fork Rancheria Community Center, 56900 Kunigib Road, North Fork
☆ Cesar Chavez Junior High, 161 S. Plainsburg, Planada
☆ Mother Lode Fairgrounds, 220 Southgate Drive, Sonora
Large animals are being accepted at the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds, and small animals are welcome at some of the centers. Call (559) 676-3702 for more information on large animals, and the Red Cross 24-hour disaster line at (559) 343-2549 for centers.
Donations of all kinds are being accepted by the area Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group in front of the Sierra Star offices at 49165 Crane Valley Road (426) in Oakhurst, from 7 a.m. to dusk.
An interactive map of the fire’s spread, as it gets closer to Coulterville north and Ben Hur south, can be seen by clicking here.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Management Agency, or FEMA, previously authorized the use of federal funds to assist in trying to save Mariposa shortly after it was placed under evacuation. Governor Jerry Brown has also declared a state of emergency in Mariposa County as the fire continued to approach the historic city.
Officials have indicated these actions should free up funding to help provide financial relief for those affected by the Detwiler Fire.
Cal Fire officials have stressed tall, dry grasses from a strong winter, coupled with dead trees, unpredictable winds, and extremely steep, rocky terrain has made controlling the flames an immense challenge.
At latest count, officials estimate the cost of fighting the Detwiler Fire at $10.7 million.