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After Fire Evacuation, Californians Return To Burned Homes


In California, the Detwiler fire near Yosemite National Park is still burning. It's consumed more than 75,000 acres. Thousands of people in Mariposa County had to flee last week, and dozens of homes burned down. Some areas are contained enough that residents are being allowed to return. Vanessa Rancano from member station KQED reports.

VANESSA RANCANO, BYLINE: The hills around the little town of Mariposa are streaked with pink - fire retardant dropped by the planes. In some places, the landscape is black and bare. Along the main highway, the ground is still hot and smoking in places. Burned homes sit in piles of ash. A helicopter dumps water nearby.


RANCANO: Where one house used to stand, there's only a foundation now and the metal skeletons of a trampoline and a washing machine Suddenly, Jason and April Hawley walk out of a patch of brush.

JASON HAWLEY: I just drove through the bushes from my property to here to see this. This is like - I've known this guy for 25 years.

RANCANO: The Hawleys grew up in Mariposa. They went to high school with the people who used to live in this house. And the families are still close.

HAWLEY: Oh, this is so sad. This is everything - I mean, literally all of his work stuff, his home. This is everything he had.

RANCANO: It fell to the Hawleys to let their friends know it was all gone. They'd barely saved their own house just up the road. They used their 3,000-gallon water tank to wet their house and a tractor to cut a line around it.

HAWLEY: And we literally saved it by inches.


KATHLEEN LEAVITT: Mariposa Shipping Company. This is Kathleen.

RANCANO: A few miles away in downtown Mariposa, Kathleen Leavitt is trying to keep her small business afloat.

LEAVITT: It's not going to happen today.

RANCANO: That was FedEx calling, hoping to deliver packages.

LEAVITT: Life goes on elsewhere.


RANCANO: Leavitt spent most of the week listening to fire personnel talk to each other on a scanner app and printing detailed maps of the fire perimeter. She's lived in Mariposa 14 years. This was the first time she'd ever been asked to evacuate. Now the fire has moved away, toward less populated areas. And fire officials have downgraded the evacuation order to an advisory. Some are opting not to go home yet because they're afraid the fire will come back. For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Rancano in Mariposa, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "HATOA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.