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Fire near Yosemite has destroyed 58 homes, displaced thousands

By Jason Hanna

(CNN) -- About an hour's drive outside California's Yosemite National Park, the Mariposa Lodge was empty Friday, save for front desk clerk Sara Beskind.

A wildfire has been burning for five days, forcing Mariposa's 2,000 residents to evacuate. With the fire kept outside the town for now, Beskind says she and others with jobs in town are allowed past roadblocks that keep others out.

Her chief reason for working Friday: answering the phone, canceling Friday-night reservations for would-be guests and telling them she's not sure when the hotel can have people stay there again.

"People can't get in, so we have no choice but to sort of be closed," Beskind said by phone Friday morning. "We're just taking it day by day, minute by minute, trying to hang on the best we can."

The Detwiler Fire, which started Sunday near Lake McClure, has destroyed 58 homes and burned more than 74,000 acres in Mariposa County west of Yosemite, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Authorities evacuated Mariposa town residents on Tuesday as the fire neared. As of Friday morning, firefighters appear to have stopped the flames' advance toward the town, but the fire's movements have been hard to predict and Mariposa remained under evacuation orders, Cal Fire spokesman Andy Isolano said.

Around 5,000 people have been evacuated throughout the county, with some staying at outlying Red Cross shelters, left to wonder when they'll be allowed back to their homes. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency for the county.

Saved his horses, then himself

One of the evacuees, Bill Savage, has been camping out in front of a horse riding school in Merced for the past few days.

He fled his Catheys Valley home, southwest of Mariposa, as the fire approached -- but not before driving his five horses to safety.

"Are we going to be victims, or are we going to save our horses?" he told CNN affiliate KOVR on Thursday. "So we hauled the horses down and then we went home and got the people."

"I'm comfortable that most that can be done for us is being done," he said. "We're just staying out of the way. Let the (firefighters) do the work."

Yosemite tells visitors to expect smoky conditions

More than 3,800 firefighters are battling the flames, which was 15% contained Friday morning, Cal Fire said.

The fire came within 50 miles of Yosemite on Friday, but was not growing toward the park, Cal Fire's Isolano said.

Yosemite's website cautioned visitors Friday to expect smoky conditions, with "poor air quality and limited visibility."

Ines Verbanck, a Belgian visitor to Yosemite, told KOVR a day earlier that she didn't notice many signs of the fire.

"We saw the ashes fall down, but that was all," she said.

The Detwiler Fire, named for one of the roads in the area, is one of more than a dozen large wildfires that were burning in California this week, officials said. The cause of the Detwiler blaze wasn't immediately known, but hot, dry conditions conducive to such fires have persisted for days.

CNN's David Williams contributed to this report.

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