After all Groveland has been through the past month — surviving a raging wildfire and subsequent evacuation orders, road closures and loss of business — the town is due for a party.
Thank you signs line Groveland’s Main Street, which will be the site of this weekend’s 49er Festival. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
This Saturday’s 49er Festival and Chili Cook-Off — Groveland’s largest annual event — takes on a new meaning this year, said Laurie Nagle, a volunteer with the Yosemite Chamber of Commerce.
“I think some people are still kind of in shock. It was very stressful,” she said of the Rim Fire, now the third largest in state history. “That’s why the timing of this festival is just perfect. People need to get out and be normal again. We’re never going to forget the fire. I mean, it’s still going. But we are moving forward.”
As of this morning, the Rim Fire has burned 256,528 acres, or about 400 square miles, and was 84 percent contained.
Emergency crews from a variety of fire and law enforcement agencies will be honored as this year’s grand marshals at the parade down Main Street beginning at 9 a.m.
“Everybody that worked on putting out the fire — they’re going to be our grand marshals,” said Nagle, who was last year’s grand marshal along with her husband, Jim.
Groveland’s Main Street continues to be covered with signs praising fire crews.
A sign at Mary Laveroni Community Park reads, “Thank you for saving our homes.” An eyeglass store is offering discounts for all emergency responders, while various cafes are giving free drinks to fire and law personnel.
A sampling of area business owners agree that business is improving.
Terri Wemmer, owner of the Miner’s Mart gas station and mini-mart in nearby Big Oak Flat, said business got better once Highway 120 reopened Sept. 6 after nearly three weeks of being closed.
“The whole time the highway was closed, we were beyond slow,” she said, echoing many others.
Late Monday morning, the Miner’s Mart was crowded with lines forming both outside at the gas pumps and inside at the cash register.
Greg Jones, who owns Dori’s Tea Cottage and Cafe with his wife, Dori, said he noticed a spike in business once Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park reopened last Saturday.
“In the last two days, things have started to pick up,” he said Monday.
Corinna Loh, owner of the Iron Door Saloon and Grill, said she had to lay off about 35 of her seasonal employees early because of the fire. Loh spent Monday cooking, something she typically doesn’t do until the off season in November.
“We took a pretty big hit with the loss of business,” she said.
Not only did the Rim Fire hurt her business, but it also burned two of her family’s homes in the Spinning Wheel Ranch area off Cherry Lake Road.
Loh said she’s looking forward to Saturday’s 49er Festival and expects the event to “hopefully boost everybody’s morale and make everybody feel better.”