Noah Berger / AP
WAWONA, California – A fast-spreading fire near Yosemite National Park exploded on a massive scale Saturday, becoming one of California’s biggest wildfires of the year, prompting thousands to order evacuations. and cut power to more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Oak Fire started Friday afternoon southwest of the park near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County and by Saturday morning had rapidly grown to 10.2 miles square footage (26.5 square kilometers), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It broke out as firefighters made progress against a blaze that had previously burned at the edge of a giant grove of trees in the southernmost part of Yosemite Park.
Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest, said evacuation orders went into effect Saturday for more than 6,000 people living on a stretch of several miles in a sparsely populated, rural area.
“Explosive behavior is challenging firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday morning and described Oak Fire’s operation as “extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group fires.”
By Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures, damaged five others and was threatening another 2,000 structures, Cal Fire said. The fire closed many roads, including the closure of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road – blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite.
More than 400 firefighters, along with helicopters, planes and other bulldozers, battled the blaze, which is in a sparsely populated area, said Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest. , mainly in the countryside of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Hot weather, low humidity and arid vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades fueled the blaze and challenged fire crews, Patterson said. California has experienced increasingly larger and more severe wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. The weather will continue to get more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable, scientists say.
“The fire is moving quickly,” Patterson said. “This fire threw embers up to 2 miles forward yesterday,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.” The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Noah Berger / AP
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 2,600 homes and businesses in the area were without power as of Friday afternoon and there was no indication when it would be restored. “PG&E was unable to access the affected device,” the utility said.
An elderly man without shoes trying to flee the blaze Friday crashed his sedan into a ditch in an enclosed area and was helped by firefighters. He was safely driven from the area and does not appear to have suffered any injuries. Several other residents were inside their homes Friday night as the fire continued to burn nearby.
Meanwhile, firefighters have made significant progress in fighting a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and consumed the Sierra National Forest.
The Washburn Fire was 79 percent contained on Friday after burning about 7.5 square miles (19.4 square kilometers) of forest. It is one of the largest fires of the year in California, along with the Lost Lake Fire in Riverside County that was completely extinguished in June with an area of 9 square miles (23 square kilometers).
The fire broke out on July 7 and forced the closure of Yosemite’s south entrance and the evacuation of the Wawona community as it burned at the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world by by volume.
Wawona Road is expected to reopen on Saturday, according to the park’s website.