Firefighters dramatically slowed the spread of a smoky wildfire in the forest near Yosemite National Park, home to thousands of residents of remote mountain communities still under evacuation orders Monday.
Crews “made good progress” against the Oak Fire, according to a Sunday night incident report from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “Fire activity has not been as extreme as it has been in previous days.”
More than 2,500 firefighters with air support battled the blaze that erupted southwest of the park Friday near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County. Officials on Saturday described “explosive fire behavior” as flames swept through dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades.
By Sunday evening, the blaze had consumed more than 63 square kilometers of uncontained forest land, Cal Fire said. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Firefighters working on steep terrain on the ground protected homes as tanker planes dropped retardant on flames 15 meters running along ridges east of the small community of Jerseydale. Staff face harsh conditions including steep terrain, sweltering temperatures and low humidity, Cal Fire said.
Light winds blew embers into tree branches “and because it’s so dry it’s easy for localized fires to establish themselves and that’s what fuels growth,” said Natasha Fouts, gatekeeper. -word of Cal Fire.
The fire “goes very fast”
Evacuations were in place for more than 6,000 people living for several miles in the sparsely populated area of the Sierra Nevada foothills, although a handful of residents defied orders and stayed, said Adrienne Freeman of the US Forest Service. .
“We urge people to evacuate when told,” she said. “This fire moves very quickly.”
Lynda Reynolds-Brown and her husband, Aubrey, were awaiting news of the fate of their home from an elementary school evacuation center. They fled as ash rained down and fire descended from a hill towards their property.
“It just seemed like it was over our house and it was coming very quickly,” Reynolds-Brown told KCRA-TV.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County due to the effects of the fire.
The flames destroyed at least 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five others, Cal Fire said. Assessment teams were traveling to mountain towns to check for additional damage, Fouts said.
Many roads were closed, including a section of State Route 140 which is one of the main routes into Yosemite.
More than 2,000 without electricity
California has seen increasingly large and deadly wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West Coast much hotter and drier over the past 30 years.
Scientists said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires will be more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 2,600 area homes and businesses lost power Monday, and there was no indication when it would be restored.
“PG&E is unable to access the affected equipment,” the utility said as flames roared Friday.
The Oak Fire was started as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze, the Washburn Fire, which burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park.
The 19 square kilometer blaze was 87% contained after burning for two weeks and moving through the Sierra National Forest.