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As some return home in Mariposa, others return to ash, and uncertainty

Steve Valdez, a clerk at Coast Hardware in Mariposa, shows a video he made of his property to submit to insurance companies when he knew his home was going to be destroyed by the Detwiler Fire. “We’ll plan to rebuild, I suppose,” Valdez said. “I mean, that’s all we can really do.”
Steve Valdez, a clerk at Coast Hardware in Mariposa, shows a video he made of his property to submit to insurance companies when he knew his home was going to be destroyed by the Detwiler Fire. “We’ll plan to rebuild, I suppose,” Valdez said. “I mean, that’s all we can really do.” Sierra Star

When Kenneth Boche was able to return to his house in Mariposa on Friday, days after he and thousands of others were forced to flee from the Detwiler Fire, he knew he had to get to work.

“Looking dry here,” Boche said at his home, located northwest of town, as he ran to grab a hose to water his expansive vegetable garden. “I’m surprised they’re not looking as bad as they could have been.”

Boche, among thousands of others, was forced to evacuate Tuesday when the Detwiler Fire, began burning dangerously close to the historic Gold Rush town.

By Friday morning the blaze had grown to just over 74,000 acres, making in second-largest in the state. But to the sighs of relief of locals, Mariposa was saved through tireless efforts by firefighters called in from throughout the West.

Boche, who owns Yosemite Close Up Tours, said that work was appreciated, but until he was able to check in at his home, he was anxious.

This is the best welcome home I could have.

Mariposa resident Kenneth Cole

“I was really worried,” Boche said. “I mean, I tried to get in because I went to town on an errand and got cut off as the area was closed off when I came back ... but this is the best welcome home I could have, to still have these plants thriving and still know my home is safe.”

Boche is lucky, because while his home still stands, many others were turned to ash.

Cal Fire provided a grim update. Though the Detwiler Fire’s rage had slowed – it grew just 4,000 acres overnight, instead of some 20,000 acres in previous days – a total 58 homes had been claimed by the blaze. At least 11 had been damaged, alongside 66 minor structures either damaged or destroyed. Another 1,500 were still threatened.

Steve Valdez, a clerk at Coast Hardware, knew his home and several outbuildings, located on Highway 140 and Yaqui Gulch Road east of Mariposa, were lost as soon as he saw flames crest a nearby ridge.

“I knew my house was going to be gone,” Valdez said, adding that when he opened his front door, it looked like the ash-laden ground was covered in snow. “Flattened to the ground. Turned to nothing. Once I saw those flames, I knew.”

His best option, he said, was to take a video of all his family’s property, from antique collectables to multiple vehicles and a full woodworking shop, so he could submit it to insurers.

“There’s a lot of stuff you collect over time, so I just opened up some cabinets and took the phone everywhere I could,” Valdez said as he watched the clip. “You can see my fishing poles there. Man, I loved those fishing poles.”

I knew my house was going to be gone.

Steve Valdez, whose Mariposa home burned down

Valdez said he was fortunate his family had a place to stay, and though he said rebuilding his home would be an ordeal, he maintained a positive outlook.

“It’s just sad,” Valdez said of the loss of homes. “Even though I’ve done my stint as a volunteer fireman, it’s really something you never want to see.”

Some people have been able to learn about their homes through neighbors who chose to disregard evacuation orders or photographs in news reports. But for many others, all that’s left is wondering whether their house is safe.

Many areas of Mariposa County, from southeast of Catheys Valley to north of Coulterville, remain under mandatory evacuation as firefighters continue to battle the inferno, which was only 15% contained Friday morning.

According to an update provided Friday afternoon, the town of Mariposa was reopened, along the entirety of Highway 49 south and on Highway 140 to Yosemite National Park. Many sections of both highways, as well as Highway 132 near Coulterville and all surrounding roads, remain closed.

For a complete list of evacuations and road closures, visit http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/1672.

Firefighting officials on Thursday estimated the cost of the Detwiler Fire at $10.7 million. A firefighter from Selma sustained minor injuries Friday when the engine he was in swerved off of Mount Bullion Cutoff Road and hit a tree.

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

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