A wildfire raging for its second day Saturday in central California’s Mariposa County, outside Yosemite National Park, has burned nearly 12,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate from rural communities, officials said.
The fire, which was contained 0% Saturday night, started Friday in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the small community of Midpines, about a 9-mile drive northeast of the county seat, the city of Mariposa, state fire officials said. .
Flames ripped through trees, sending thick smoke into the air Friday, and at least one rural area burned close to homes and parked vehicles, video from CNN affiliates KFSN and KGO showed.
“(Authorities) came by… and told us everyone had to go,” Wes Detamore, a resident of the Mariposa Pines area, told KFSN on Friday.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County after the fire forced more than 3,000 people from their homes, according to a press release from his office. Activating a state of emergency provides additional resources to support the response to the fire.
Electricity in the area was cut off at about 4 p.m. local time Friday, “and the fire is accelerating toward us,” Detamore said.
The fire destroyed at least 10 buildings and damaged another five, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said Saturday. The fire threatens 2,000 other buildings, Cal Fire said.
According to Cal Fire, it had burned 6,555 acres by Saturday morning. The fire activity was extreme and emergency services were busy evacuating people and protecting buildings, the department said.
Eleven firefighters with more than 400 personnel, as well as 45 fire trucks and four helicopters, have been assigned to fight the flames, Cal Fire said.
Evacuations have been ordered for certain areas of Mariposa County south and east of the fire, as shown on an online map. The evacuation zones do not include the city of Mariposa.
A Red Cross evacuation center has been set up at an elementary school in Mariposa, Cal Fire said.
The fire comes as much of the US has experienced an extreme heat wave this week, with parts of California seeing temperatures in the triple digits.
Wildfires that have been scorching the western US in recent years have become more common as a result of worsening droughts caused by climate change. In California alone, more than 2.5 million acres were burned in nearly 9,000 fires last year, according to Cal Fire.
Nick Smith told CNN his parents’ house burned down as a result of the fire. His parents, Jane and Wes Smith, lived in their Mariposa home for 37 years, he said.
“It’s pretty sad to see the house I grew up and grew up in is gone,” he said. “It hits hard.”
Smith told CNN that his father is a Mariposa sheriff and was working on the fire when his mother, Jane, had to evacuate. According to Smith, she had time to load their horses and leave the area.
“They only had the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet,” he added.
Meanwhile, the couple is staying with friends and family. Smith created a verified GoFundMe to support his parents and help them cope with their loss.
“They lived in their house for more than 37 years and have now lost everything,” Smith wrote on GoFundMe. “37 years of memories, generations of family treasures and countless more sentimental things. While these are materials, it is devastating to literally lose everything in the blink of an eye without notice.”
The fire is located several dozen miles southwest of the southern edges of Yosemite National Park, although the park is closer if you measure it in a straight line.
The Oak Fire is the largest of California’s currently active wildfires, counting at least six Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire.
The second largest, the Washburn Fire, has been burning in and near southern Yosemite National Park for more than two weeks. It had burned more than 4,850 acres and was contained 79% by Saturday morning, according to InciWeb, a U.S. fire information center.