WAWONA, Calif. — A fast-moving brushfire near Yosemite National Park erupted Saturday into one of California’s biggest wildfires of the year, triggering evacuation orders for thousands of people and cutting power to more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
The oak fire started southwest of the park near the Mariposa County town of Midpines on Friday afternoon and had grown to nearly 38 square kilometers by Saturday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. It erupted as firefighters tackled an earlier fire that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite Park.
Evacuation orders were put into effect Saturday for more than 6,000 people who live across miles of the sparsely populated rural area, said Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for Sierra National Forest.
More than 400 firefighters, along with helicopters, other planes and bulldozers, battled the blaze and faced difficult conditions including hot weather, low humidity and bone-dry vegetation brought on by the worst drought in decades, Patterson said.
“Explosive fire behavior poses challenges for firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday, describing the Oak Fire’s activity as “extreme with frequent runs, point fires and group flares.”
As of Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial buildings, damaged five others and threatened 2,000 other buildings, Cal Fire said. The fire resulted in numerous road closures, including a Highway 140 closure between Carstens Road and Allred Road, blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite.
California has seen increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
“The fire moves fast. This fire threw embers up to 2 miles yesterday,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.” The cause of the fire was determined.
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 2,600 homes and businesses in the area had lost power as of Friday afternoon and there was no indication when power would be restored. “PG&E cannot access the affected devices,” the utility said.
A shoeless elderly man trying to flee the blaze on Friday crashed his limousine into a ditch in a cordoned-off area and was assisted by firefighters. He was safely driven from the area and appeared to suffer no injuries. Several other residents remained in their homes Friday night as the fire burned nearby.
Meanwhile, firefighters have made significant progress in fighting a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and burned into the Sierra National Forest.
The Washburn fire was 79% contained as of Friday after burning about 7.5 square miles (19.4 square kilometers) of forest. It was one of the largest fires of the year in California, along with Riverside County’s Lost Lake Fire, which was fully contained across 8 square miles in June.
The fire broke out on July 7, forcing the closure of Yosemite’s south entrance and the evacuation of the community of Wawona as it burned on the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume.
According to the park website, Wawona Road is expected to reopen on Saturday.
https://nypost.com/2022/07/23/thousands-evacuate-as-california-wildfire-nears-yosemite/ Thousands evacuate as California wildfire nears Yosemite