WAWONA, Calif. (AP) — A fast-moving brush fire near Yosemite National Park erupted Saturday into one of California’s largest fires of the year, prompting evacuation orders for thousands of people and cutting off power to more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
The Oak Fire, which started Friday afternoon southwest of the park near Midpines in Mariposa County, grew to 10.2 square miles (26.5 square kilometers) Saturday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry. and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. It erupted as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze that had burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite Park.
Evacuation orders were put into effect Saturday for more than 6,000 people living in the sparsely populated rural area, said Daniel Patterson, spokesman for the Sierra National Forest.
“Explosive fire behavior is a challenge for firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday morning that described Oak Fire activity as “extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group fires.”
By Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures, damaged five others and threatened 2,000 other structures, Cal Fire said. The rapidly growing fire has resulted in numerous road closures, including the closure of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road, blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite.
More than 400 firefighters, along with helicopters, other planes and bulldozers, battled the blaze, which was in a sparsely populated and mostly rural area in the Sierra Nevada foothills, spokesman Daniel Patterson said. of the Sierra National Forest.
Hot weather, low humidity and very dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades were fueling the blaze and challenging fire crews, Patterson said.
“The fire moves quickly. This fire was throwing embers ahead of it up to 2 miles yesterday,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.”
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 2,600 homes and businesses in the area lost power Friday afternoon and there was no indication when it would be restored. “PG&E is unable to access the affected equipment,” the utility said.
On Friday, a barefoot elderly man trying to flee the blaze crashed his sedan into a ditch in a closed area and was helped by firefighters. He was led safely out of the area and does not appear to have suffered any injuries. Several other residents remained at home Friday night as the fire continued to burn nearby.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Cal Fire said.
Meanwhile, firefighters made significant progress against a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and burned through the Sierra National Forest.
The Washburn Fire was 79% contained on Friday after burning about 7.5 square miles (19.4 square kilometers) of forest.
The fire broke out on July 7 and forced the closure of the south entrance to Yosemite and the evacuation of the community of Wawona as it burned on the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world by volume.
Wawona Road is tentatively set to reopen on Saturday, according to the park’s website.