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Valley Edition Special: Mariposa County Residents Return Home After Detwiler Fire

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR

Residents around Mariposa are picking up the pieces left behind in the wake of the Detwiler Fire. For many, that means returning to homes damaged or completely destroyed by the fast moving blaze.

This week Valley Public Radio spoke with a wide range of people who were affected in some way by the fire to find out how they are feeling and what their plans are going forward.

92-year old Liotta Brewer has lived in and around Mariposa for her entire life. Her home was saved but the fire burned other parts of her land destroying barns, a workshop, and several vehicles. The fire came so close it burned her porch and melted plastic items, like an outdoor thermometer. 

“It’s terrible. I’m just sick. Heart sick. To see all your things go down the drain. It’s very hard. I have never (seen anything like this). I guess I have been lucky to not have any fires. It is actually just devastating to see the damage. But we will make it,” says Brewer.


Chris Allen was not so lucky. His home is nearby and was burned to the ground, leaving only the chimney standing. He says the speed of the fire was terrifying.

“We have them come in and tell us we had to evacuate. The fire was so close. It came through so fast none of the firefighters could get up here in time. They barely got the houses down the road safe. It just came through so fast and hot there was not stopping it. It’s hard to come back after 22 years of living here. Of all the fires we have had this is the worst one. All we do is start over,” says Allen.


Further away from Mariposa near Catheys Valley fire crews were able to protect the homes from the fire that burned just feet from the structures. Mitch Boze’s home was spared from damage but the land around it is a black wasteland. He says he’s worried about people he knows who weren’t so lucky.

“My concern is with the people up there that lost their homes. We are going to be gathering up a lot of stuff to donate to the families in Mariposa who lost their homes. What we can spare and hopefully what they need. Some cash. So there is a lot of people in Mariposa County who have nothing. There are a lot of people suffering out here. We are a very independent county. We don’t want to say we are totally self-sufficient and don’t need the outside. Mariposa County is one of the last old time conservative counties in the state of California. We like it up here because we usually don’t get bothered much by Sacramento and the Bay Area. But this is such a huge event, we are not going to get through this without outside assistance,” says Boze.


Some of the tougher evacuees to care for are the horses owned by many mountain residents. At least two ranches opened their gates to care for the animals. Ranch hand Donny Linderholm in Coarsegold says there was an outpouring of donations to help them care for the dozens of horses they are looking after.

“Claudia Box from Box Feed in North Fork, California gave a humongous donation. We received two tons of hay from her. She set up a thing where people can call in via credit card or send them a check over the phone to help with purchases of the feed as well as other products that we need. She calls me every hour and she says ‘Donny, you have a $900 credit. You have a $1,000 credit. Do you want this in feed?’. I have been evacuated in the past. I know exactly how it feels. I have had to evacuate with a fire 100 feet away from my property. It is devastating for these people to have to go through it. So we are here to do all we can to provide a safe space for their livestock. As well as compassion for the people dropping them off,” says Linderholm.


The smoke from the fire was reported as far away as Nevada. It also filled the Yosemite Valley but that didn’t get British tourist Michael Upton down.

“We were doing a hike up at Tuolumne for three or four days with friends. We came down to see the valley itself. It is amazing. It’s fantastic. Honestly, the smoke doesn’t bother me. I have never seen it before I will never see it again but it is pretty amazing anyway,” Upton says.


Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.