One of California’s biggest wildfires this year burned through more than 14,000 acres on Sunday, forcing thousands of people to flee remote mountain communities as the blaze neared National Parks. Yosemite burns out of control amid sultry temperatures and low humidity.
The Oak Fire broke out Friday in Mariposa County, near the small town of Midpines. 12 miles east, firefighters made progress against the Washburn Fire near Yosemite. threatens the park’s largest and most iconic sequoia forest.
The Washburn fire is 80% contained after two weeks of firefighting, but the Oak fire remains at 0% as of Sunday afternoon, by Cal Fire.
The 2,000 firefighters battling the blaze will encounter extreme conditions including low humidity, high temperatures and steep terrain, Cal Fire said. The agency also deployed 17 helicopters, 225 fire engines, 58 bulldozers and 23 water tankers to fight the Oak Fire.
“It’s been hot again today,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Natasha Fouts said. “And the fuel moisture is very low.”
Light winds blew embers ahead into the branches “and because it’s so dry it’s easy to start a local fire and that’s what drives growth,” Fouts said.
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By Sunday afternoon, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five, according to Cal Fire. Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 3,100 homes and businesses in the area lost power, with no indication when it would be restored.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County because of the fire, and more than 6,000 people in the remote foothills of the Sierra Nevada were evacuated. Adrienne Freeman of the US Forest Service said a small number of residents defied orders and stayed.
“We urge people to evacuate when notified,” Freeman said. “This flame moves very quickly.”
Cal Fire said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
California has experienced increasingly larger and more severe wildfires in recent years along with the warming of climate change and the drying of the western United States over the past three decades. Scientists have warned that wildfires are likely to become more unpredictable, more frequent and more destructive.
Contribution: Associated Press