Mariposa Life

Picking up the pieces after the Detwiler Fire

Rob and Rhonda Falany of Hunters Valley were one of the first families to be evacuated during the Detwiler fire. After the fire was contained in their area, a firefighter told them their house was destroyed, but their garage and storage shed were still there.

When Rob was able to go home for the first time, he realized what the firefighters thought was a storage shed was actually a smaller house the family had lived in before the main house was built. They were ecstatic.

Last week, friends of the Falanys came over to help clean up. Mice and rats had found refuge in the small dwelling during the fire and in prior years while uninhabited. Resulting in a huge mess. Buckets of bleach water were used to scrub the floors, new screens were put up at the windows, kitchen cabinets were sanitized, dishes and glasses were washed, a microwave was given on loan, and electricity and water were turned on.

A few days later another fire started near Lake McClure. The Falanys and some friends ate lunch outside, watching the smoke grow blacker and thicker beyond the hills. Soon the fire engines headed past their property – more than a dozen vehicles – and a helicopter and air tanker flew overhead.

“Not again,” Rhonda said. “I’m a little gun-shy now.”

Before evening, the engines were heading back to Mariposa. The Falanys could rest easier and get back to the work of fixing up their “new” home.

Over the weekend other fires flared in Tuolumne County, the Plumas National Forest and other parts of the state, affecting friends and family.

It’s fire season in California.

Harold and Alice Yates live on a quiet country road outside of Mariposa. However, with the PG&E base camp nearby, rush hour is now common during mornings and late afternoons, with road crews waving cars by or stopping traffic as needed. Although the fire is over, there’s still much work to do.

Their granddaughter, Jessica Wildt-Smith, and her family lost the home they rented and most of their possessions. Just after midnight on the Tuesday after the Detwiler fire started, they received a pre-evacuation notice. They packed up important paperwork, pictures and the boys’ clothes. They were evacuated an hour later. They went to her in-laws’ house, and later that morning were evacuated again.

“Some days it’s easy to stay positive, but other days are harder. There are eight of us now in a three-bedroom house, and we’re sleeping in the living room,” she said.

Her husband, Jeff, went back to work a few days after they were evacuated, and Jessica is managing things and picking up donations.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, but we’ve had so much more help than we ever imagined – it makes things easier. We know one day we’ll have our own place again.”

Last week at the Mariposa County High School gymnasium the Detwiler Fire Assistance Center opened its doors to local residents needing help. Several hundred attended during the two days. County and state agencies were represented, along with nonprofit organizations, churches, insurance and utility companies.

For many residents, being without electricity and refrigeration for days resulted in spoiled food. A small loss compared to some. Many thanks to the county landfill for allowing us to dump our food trash for free after evacuations were lifted.

For those whose home was destroyed or damaged, Cal OES and Mariposa County held a meeting earlier this week to inform fire victims how to remove fire debris from their property and where to take it at no cost.

The Wildland Fire Incident Management Field Guide is 160 pages long. I read a few pages, and have an increased admiration for the men and women who serve to protect our communities.

These firefighters view your backyard as their backyard, we were told by one of the battalion chiefs.

While driving in our foothills communities, you’ll still see homemade signs posted along our roads: We love our firefighters; Free coffee and water to fire fighters; Thank you, everyone!

Mariposa County residents are grateful for the dedication and exhausting efforts made by the Cal Fire teams, the City of Merced, the first responder agencies, law enforcement staff and others who worked (and are still working) these past few weeks to do battle with one of nature’s most powerful adversaries.

We cannot thank you enough.

Debbie Croft can be reached at