Investigators say firearms caused the Detwiler Fire, and they’re looking for who did it

The Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County was caused by firearm use on public lands, Cal Fire investigators said Friday.
The Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County was caused by firearm use on public lands, Cal Fire investigators said Friday. Special to Sierra Star

The Detwiler Fire, a raging blaze that forced thousands to evacuate and destroyed 63 homes in Mariposa County, was caused by firearm discharge on public lands, Cal Fire investigators said in a release Friday evening.

Anyone with information regarding the person, or persons responsible for starting the fire is asked to call the Crime Stoppers Hotline at (559) 498-7867. A $2,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible, Cal Fire officials said. Callers can remain anonymous.

To date, the Detwiler Fire has burned 81,826 acres, destroyed 131 structures, and is 98% contained. It began around 4 p.m. July 16 in the Hunters Valley area two miles east of Lake McClure, destroyed 63 homes and damaged 13 more. It also claimed 67 other structures, such as barns and sheds, damaged eight more, and destroyed one commercial structure.

This week, crews shifted into repair plans to fix any damages caused by suppression activities, such as broken fences or scraped out vegetation for bulldozer lines. Cal Fire officials said it’d take about 60 days to complete the work.

The Detwiler Fire grew so quickly that at one point, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dollars were authorized to help battle the blaze.

The specific circumstances of the cause remain under investigation, Cal Fire officials said. At least one estimate put the total cost of the blaze around $60 million.

Hints of the Telegraph Fire

The Detwiler Fire isn’t the first major inferno to be started by someone using a firearm.

On July 25, 2008, the Telegraph Fire was sparked by target shooting north of Mariposa, and west of the El Portal entrance to Yosemite National Park. The Merced Sun-Star reported the shooter, David Craig Mosher, then 29 of Merced, was sentenced to three years of probation and 60 hours of community service for starting a fire that cost the state more than $37 million, and destroyed 30 homes.

Mosher was cooperative, and told investigators he was target shooting in the area. Investigators determined a steel-jacketed bullet that Mosher fired hit a rock and sparked flames, which quickly spread into surrounding dry grass. Mosher pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts for carelessly starting the blaze and possession of unregistered assault weapons.

Mountain Area rallies in support

To help victims of the Detwiler Fire, numerous fundraisers have been planned.

On Aug. 9, all members of the public are encouraged to go shop at Mariposa businesses, after they were closed when the entire town was forced to evacuate July 18.

In an event known as “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” organized by Eastern Madera-Mariposa Counties Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), residents from the Mountain Area and elsewhere are asked to go back and shop to help restore dollars lost to the Mariposa economy.

This Saturday, Aug. 5, the Clampers Chapter #1849 of Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Calaveras counties are joining forces with Mariposa restaurant Miners Roadhouse 140 for a benefit barbecue to help all people affected by the Detwiler Fire. From noon to 10 p.m., all proceeds from the outdoor barbecue at Miners Roadhouse 140, for $10 a ticket, will be donated to victims of the fire.

For those seeking to give nationally lauded Oakhurst restaurant Erna’s Elderberry House a try, Aug. 13 might be the perfect day to do so. For $68 per person, guests will enjoy a five-course meal from one of the few five-diamond restaurants in the state, with all proceeds going to Detwiler Fire victims.

For a photo gallery of the Detwiler Fire, click here.