Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Progress On Detwiler Fire As Residents, Yosemite Tourists Deal With Smoke

Jul 20, 2017

The Detwiler Fire  has now burned over 70,000 acres and is 10 percent contained, but officials say they are making progress in the firefight, and say Mariposa residents may soon be able to return to their homes.

Ken Pimlott is the Director of Cal Fire. He says cooler temperatures have helped the effort. 

“Our goal is to the use the next several days while the weather has somewhat moderated to really try to get containment lines in, but we’re really not out of the woods,” says Pimlott.

He says the northern portion of the fire is a big concern, but at the southern end near Mariposa, firefighters have made progress.

“We hope to repopulate the community of Mariposa or start that tonight, if conditions hold, but the north end of the fire still has active fire burning in the communities of Coulterville and Greeley Hill are directly ahead of the fire, and so we have a lot of work to do on that part of the fire in the Merced River drainage,” says Pimlott.

Steep and remote terrain is complicating the firefight in those areas.  Mark Brown is the deputy operations chief for the fire.

“We’re continuing to be challenged on the north side of the fire where there’s no real good access, steep nasty terrain. We have bulldozers, handcrews, fire engines doing everything we can to create the line,” says Brown.

PG&E is working to restore service in the area after the fire destroyed a key transmission line. Crews have already restored power to Mariposa customers. 

So far the fire has destroyed 45 buildings, and has damaged six others.

Smoke from the fire is also an issue across Central California, but it doesn’t seem to be dampening excitement at Yosemite National Park. The fire is pouring a haze of smoke in to the Yosemite Valley limiting visibility and making it difficult to breath.

But tourists from all over the world are still flocking to the site and saying they won’t let a little smoke get them down.

Anne Erdal traveled from Norway to see the El Capitan and Half Dome and is just happy the fire didn’t shutdown the park.

“It’s kind of just a blue mist. And it is kind of cool because it put layer into the view of the mountain. So I don’t really mind at all,” Erdal says.

The level of smoke in the valley varies depending on the time of day and the direction of the wind. Park officials say attendance numbers have not dipped and are still expecting a busy weekend. Although they do caution that visitors with sensitive respiratory conditions avoid strenuous hikes.

Cal Fire says power lines into the park are among the threatened structures.

Park Ranger Jamie Richards says even if those lines are damaged or destroyed, the park will remain operational.

“If you are a visitor coming into Yosemite National Park and we did have a major power outage, our backup generators and you really won’t notice it as a visitor,” Richards says.

Richards says about 50 employees have had to evacuate from their homes but most are still able to make it to the park for work. None of the evacuated employees are staying in the park.

She adds that the fire has not dampened attendance numbers and they expect another busy summer weekend.

KQED’s Vanessa Rancano also contributed to this report.