California wildfire spirals out of control near Yosemite

MADEBANES, CA – A devastating wildfire erupted near Yosemite National Park, spiraled out of control Sunday, and has grown into one of California’s largest this year, forcing thousands of residents to flee remote mountain communities.

About 2,000 firefighters were battling the oak fire, along with planes and bulldozers, in the face of harsh conditions that included steep terrain and high temperatures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

“The weather is expected to remain hot today with a minimum humidity of 5-10%, which will hamper firefighting efforts,” said a report on the incident on Sunday morning.

The fire broke out Friday southwest of the park near the town of Midpines, Mariposa County. Officials described “explosive fire behaviour” on Saturday as flames erupted in dry vegetation due to the worst drought in decades.

As of Sunday, Cal Fire said the fire had consumed more than 56 square kilometers of forest land without being contained. The cause was under investigation.

More than 6,000 people living across several miles of the sparsely populated area in the Sierra Nevada foothills have been ordered to evacuate.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Mariposa County due to the effects of the fire.

Cal Fire said the fire destroyed 10 residential and commercial buildings and damaged five others. Several roads have been closed, including State Route 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road – one of the main roads to Yosemite.

California has experienced larger and increasingly deadly wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists said the weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires will become more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.

Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 3,100 homes and businesses in the area had been out of power as of Sunday and there was no indication when it would be restored. “PG&E is unable to access the affected equipment,” the facility said as the flames erupted on Friday.

The oak fire broke out when firefighters made advances against an earlier fire, the Washburn Fire, which burned at the edge of a giant sequoia grove in the southern part of Yosemite National Park. The 7.5-square-mile (19-square-kilometre) fire is nearly 80% contained after burning for two weeks and moving into the Sierra National Forest.

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