Firefighters slow the growth of a massive fire in California near Yosemite

Firefighters have dramatically slowed the spread of a massive wildfire in a forest near Yosemite National Park that has burned 55 homes and other buildings and forced thousands from their homes, officials said Monday.

“It was a successful day for the planes and firefighters resulting in minimal fire growth. Helicopters dropped 300,000 gallons of water on the fire. Crews continue to build control lines and d ‘extinguish hot spots along existing lines,’ said a report released late Monday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

Thousands of residents of mountain communities were still under evacuation orders Monday as smoke from the fire drifted more than 200 miles, reaching Lake Tahoe, parts of Nevada and the Las Vegas region. San Francisco Bay, officials said.

“The air quality has been just appalling,” said Kim Zagaris, an adviser to the Western Fire Chiefs Association, which maps wildfires across the country.

More than 2,500 firefighters with air support were battling the blaze, known as the Oak Fire, which erupted southwest of the park last Friday near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County. Officials described “explosive fire behavior” on Saturday as flames swept through very dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades.

The fire had consumed 27 square miles of forest land, with 16% containment, Cal Fire said. The cause was under investigation.

On Monday, firefighters battled through steep terrain in temperatures reaching the mid-90s.

Ground forces protected homes on Sunday as air tankers dropped retardant on 50ft flames running along ridges east of the small community of Jerseydale.

There are two major fires in California, which are experiencing a fairly typical buildup of what is sure to be an active fire year once the infamous Santa Ana and Diablo wind events begin in September, Zagaris said.

” We were lucky. We’re not quite as advanced as we were this time last year,” he said. “But the fuels, the vegetation, are much drier than they were last year. It’s so dry there.

Zagaris compared California’s wildfires this year to 2008, when few fires burned early but a midsummer barrage of lightning hit the state “and before we know it, there had 2,000 fires in the northern part of the state.”

Evacuations were in place on Monday for more than 6,000 people living several miles from the sparsely populated Sierra Nevada foothills fire zone, although a handful of residents defied orders and stayed put, a report said. said Adrienne Freeman, spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.

“We urge people to evacuate when told,” she said.

Jane and Wes Smith lost their 37-year-old home and Jane only had time to load up her two horses and flee, according to their son, Nick Smith, SFGate reported.

Wes Smith is the Mariposa County Emergency Services Coordinator and was working on fire response as their home burned down.

The couple “lost everything. 37 years of memories, generations of family treasures and countless other sentimental things,” their son posted on a GoFundMe page.

Many roads were closed, including a section of State Route 140 which is one of the main routes into Yosemite.

California has seen increasingly large and deadly wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West 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.

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.

This latest fire, which spans an area of ​​7.5 square miles, was 87% contained Monday after burning for two weeks and moving through the Sierra National Forest.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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