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As Detwiler Fire evacuations lift in Mariposa, businesses hustle to reopen

Greg Wackerman, whose son owns the 1850 Restaurant in Mariposa, lights up when told evacuation orders had been fully lifted on the town Friday. “I love that, I love that. It’s great for the townspeople,” he said.
Greg Wackerman, whose son owns the 1850 Restaurant in Mariposa, lights up when told evacuation orders had been fully lifted on the town Friday. “I love that, I love that. It’s great for the townspeople,” he said. High Mountain Images

Jim Musick has been a regular at the Coast Hardware store in downtown Mariposa since 1984. Before its reopening on Friday, after the town’s complete evacuation due to the quick moving Detwiler Fire four days before, it was, for a moment, like the store had never closed.

“So they’re finally letting you get back to work,” Musick teased at Heidi Dulcich, the store’s manager while she held the door open for him. “Maybe they should have left you closed.”

“Oh, you know we’ve been here,” Dulcich responded with a laugh.

That sense of normalcy, and the shared sense of relief as many returned to work, was something to be cherished after residents were forced to flee on reports that flames were creeping ever closer to their beloved town.

It feels great to see people back in town.

Mary Hettinger, a sales clerk at Pioneer Market

Though he wasn’t evacuated, Musick said Friday morning’s lift of the closure of Highway 49 south and Highway 140 from Mariposa to Yosemite National Park was a good sign.

“Boy, everybody lost a lot in this,” Musick said. “It’s really terrible. But at least some folks are getting to come home. I hope everyone can soon.”

Jeremiah Johnson, a Marine veteran and resident of the nearby Mount Bullion area, which remained under evacuation orders, said it was great to see shops reopening their doors as he sat with Mia, his family dog.

“Hopefully Pioneer Market opens soon so I can get some water,” Johnson said. “We definitely all need that.”

“It feels great to see people back in town,” said Mary Hettinger, a sales clerk at the reopened market. “It was just fire trucks and crews coming through, so it’s good to see faces, normal faces..”

Hettinger said in less than an hour after the store reopened around 1:30 p.m., more than 20 customers had stopped by.

A short distance down Highway 140, Mariposa’s main street, Bret Ticehurst prepared to serve up his cafe’s signature drink, the Zebra Tuxedo, for customers at Moonbow Espresso.

“I feel rushed,” Ticehurst joked. “I’m heating up the machines, grinding up some coffee, and getting everything ready to go. It’s kind of messy because we had to leave in a hurry ... I think as soon as customers find out we’re open, they’ll be here.”

I think as soon as customers find out we’re open, they’ll be here.

Bret Ticehurst, owner of Moonbow Espresso

On Tuesday, the main area of Mariposa, which houses some 2,200 people by latest U.S. Census estimates, was placed under mandatory evacuation orders as the blaze, from its northwest origins near Lake McClure on July 16, roared directly towards businesses and homes.

That evening, firefighters performed what some officials later called a heroic stand, building bulldozer lines around Mariposa’s western borders while attacking the flames as they crested over nearby ridges.

The town, known for its past in the Gold Rush, was kept largely damage-free as a result.

Though some business owners felt the closure was kept in place longer than necessary, Greg Wackerman, watering plants outside the 1850 Restaurant owned by his family, lit up with a wide grin as he was told the evacuation order had been removed.

“I love that,” said Wackerman, who learned he’d also be able to return to his nearby home. “It’s great for the townspeople.”

Mark Evan Smith: 559-683-4464, Ext. 205, @markevansmith

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