Update: Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. PT
JERSEYDALE, Calif. — Firefighters continue to make progress against a huge California forest fire that forced evacuations for thousands of people and destroyed 41 homes and other buildings near Yosemite National Park, officials said Tuesday.
Crews battling the Oak Fire in Mariposa County got a break from increased humidity levels as monsoonal moisture moved through the Sierra Nevada foothills, said a Tuesday morning report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
After minimal growth Monday and overnight, the blaze had consumed more than 28 square miles (72 square km) of forest land, with 26% containment on Tuesday, Cal Fire said. The cause was under investigation.
“Fire crews continue providing structure defense, extinguishing hot spots, and building and improving direct fire lines,” the report said.
About 6,000 residents from mountain communities were still under evacuation orders while heavy smoke from the fire drifted more than 200 miles (322 kilometers), reaching Lake Tahoe, parts of Nevada and the San Francisco Bay Area, officials said.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters with aircraft support were battling the blaze that erupted last Friday southwest of the park, near the town of Midpines. It exploded in size on Saturday as flames churned through tinder-dry brush and trees amid the worst drought in decades.
Numerous roads were closed, including a stretch of State Route 140 that’s one of the main routes into Yosemite.
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West 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.
The Oak Fire burned as firefighters also made progress against an earlier blaze that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite. The Washburn Fire, spanning a 7.6-square-mile (19-square-km) area, was 87% contained on Tuesday after burning for more than two weeks and moving into the Sierra National Forest.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Monday, 4 p.m. PT
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Crews fighting the massive, still-growing Oak fire near Yosemite National Park reported some positive progress for the first time Monday morning, containing 10% of the almost 17,000-acre blaze.
The inferno in the Sierra Nevada foothills, which has forced thousands to flee their homes and destroyed at least 10 structures, grew by 1,000 acres since late Sunday, Cal Fire officials reported. The fire had no containment Sunday.
“We have more resources assigned to the fire — that certainly helped,” Jonathan Pierce, public information officer with Cal Fire’s Incident Management Team 5, said Monday morning. “The crews have been doing a lot of hard work.”
Almost 2,600 firefighters are working the wildfire, Pierce said, with crews prioritizing the protection of nearby communities in central Mariposa County, southwest of Yosemite. More than 3,200 structures remain threatened by the flames.
The Oak fire started Friday near Midpines and quickly became California’s largest blaze of the season thus far. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County.
Officials have not determined what caused the fire.
Pierce said humidity levels remained low overnight Sunday, which didn’t help firefighting, and he did not expect any major shifts in weather. Hot temperatures, low humidity and drought-parched vegetation have fueled the fire.
“There are parts of the fire where behavior is dying down, but there are parts of the fire that are still active, more extreme,” Pierce said. He said long-range spotting — firebrands or embers blown outside the main fire perimeter that can spark fires — continue to be a concern.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter for those displaced by the Oak fire at Mariposa Elementary School, where evacuees can also bring small animals. People can take large animals to the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, according to Cal Fire.
The Washburn fire, which ignited earlier this month not far from the Oak fire but inside of Yosemite National Park, is about 80% contained. It had threatened the park’s largest grove of ancient sequoias, but officials say the trees are expected to survive.
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