A wildfire burning out of control through tinder-dry forests near California’s Yosemite National Park has forced thousands of residents to flee remote mountain communities.
Some 2,000 firefighters on Sunday battled the Oak fire, which grew into one of the biggest blazes of the year in the western United States. Aided by aircraft and bulldozers, they faced tough conditions, including steep terrain, sweltering temperatures and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
The fire erupted on Friday southwest of the park near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County. Officials described “explosive fire behaviour” on Saturday as flames made runs through bone-dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades.
The blaze had consumed more than 5,600 hectares (13,840 acres) of forest land, with no containment, Cal Fire said. The cause was under investigation.
Evacuations were in place for more than 6,000 people living across a several-kilometre span of the sparsely populated area in the Sierra Nevada foothills, though a handful of residents defied the orders and stayed behind, said Adrienne Freeman with the US Forest Service.
Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for Mariposa County due to the fire’s effects.
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the region much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 3,100 homes and businesses in the area had lost power and there was no indication when it would be restored.
The Oak fire was sparked as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze, the Washburn fire, that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. The 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) fire was nearly 80 percent contained after burning for two weeks and moving into the Sierra National Forest.