A fast-moving wildfire near Yosemite National Park exploded in size into one of California’s largest wildfires of the year on Saturday, prompting evacuation orders for thousands of people and cutting power to more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
The Oak Fire began Friday afternoon southwest of the park near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County, and had grown to 11,900 acres without containment by Saturday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. It broke out like firefighters progress made against a previous fire that burned to the edge of a forest of giant redwoods in the southernmost part of Yosemite Park.
Evacuation orders went into effect Saturday for more than 6,000 people living several miles away in the sparsely populated rural area, said Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday due to the effects of the Oak Fire.
More than 400 firefighters battled the blaze, along with helicopters, other planes and bulldozers, in harsh conditions such as hot weather, low humidity and bone-dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades, Patterson said.
“Explosive fire behavior is a challenge for firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday, describing the Oak Fire’s activity as “extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group flares.”
By Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial buildings, damaged five others and threatened another 2,000 buildings, Cal Fire said. The fire caused numerous road closures, including a closure of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road, blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite.
California has been dealing with increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has caused the West has been much warmer and drier in the past 30 years. Scientists have said the weather will remain more extreme and wildfires will be more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
“The fire is moving fast. This fire was throwing glowing coals for 2 miles yesterday,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.” The cause of the fire was investigated.
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 of when it would be restored. “PG&E has no access to the affected equipment,” the utility said.
An elderly man without shoes who tried to flee the fire on Friday crashed his sedan into a ditch in a closed area and was helped by firefighters. He was driven safely out of the area and appeared to be uninjured. Several other residents stayed in their homes Friday night as the fire burned nearby.
Meanwhile, firefighters have made significant progress against a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and burned out in the Sierra National Forest.
The Washburn Fire was 79% under control Friday after burning approximately 7.5 square miles of forest. It was one of the biggest fires of the year in California, along with the Lost Lake Fire in Riverside County, which was completely contained in 9 square miles by June.
The fire broke out on July 7, forcing the south entrance to Yosemite to close and evacuate the community of Wawona when it burned on the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant redwoods, the world’s largest trees by volume.