Wildfire near Yosemite threatens 500 structures
By SCOTT SMITH
OAKHURST, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters from throughout California were being dispatched Tuesday to protect homes threatened by an out-of-control wildfire burning in the foothills near Yosemite National Park, the second fire around the park in recent weeks.
The nearly 2-square-mile, wind-whipped blaze in Madera County had destroyed eight structures and was threatening 500 homes around Oakhurst, a community about 16 miles from a Yosemite entrance, fire and sheriff’s officials said. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for about 1,000 people, and another 4,000 were told to prepare to leave their homes, Madera County sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart said.
“This is a wind-dominated fire,” Stuart said. “We have no control of that.”
The fire comes as California is in the midst of its third straight year of drought, creating tinder-dry conditions that have significantly increased the fire danger around the state.
Evacuated residents in Oakhurst braced for the worst.
“There is nothing you can do when a fire is raging,” said Clement Williams, 67. “You just have to flee. It’s a real sinking feeling.”
Williams and his wife, Gretchen Williams, 63, were trying to get information about the fire and their home from fire officials. They spent the night at a nearby hotel and casino.
Oakhurst was smoky, though no flames were visible from the downtown area. The fire was moving away from town toward a nearby reservoir and resort community, state fire spokesman Chris Christopherson said. Fire crews, however, were anticipating some help from cooler temperatures, higher humidity and calmer winds.
Winds pushed embers from the blaze up to a half-mile after the fire began Monday afternoon, Christopherson said.
It was unclear how many of the eight structures that were destroyed were homes.
State Route 41 toward Yosemite was closed in the area and travelers would need to use different routes into the park, authorities said.
The fire was burning near a propane business with 30,000 gallon tanks on site, but the tanks were spared, Stuart said.
The fire comes on the heels of another blaze around Yosemite this summer and last year’s Rim Fire, which raged for two months across 400 square miles of land including part of Yosemite National Park. The Rim Fire threatened thousands of structures, destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.
Last month’s fire, which also burned in the park, threatened about 100 homes and sent smoke into Yosemite’s famed valley before it was brought under control.
Meanwhile, another out-of-control blaze that began Monday some 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield surged to 3,195 acres, or nearly 5 square miles.
“It burned north, south and east,” said Cindy Thill, a fire spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. “It went uphill and downhill at the same time.”
The fire burning near Lake Isabella in Kern County brought recommended evacuation orders for about 200 homes in several neighborhoods, the Forest Service said. A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at Kern Valley High School in Lake Isabella.
Some structures burned, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many or if any were homes, Thill said. There was no containment of the fire early Tuesday.
More than 450 firefighters with air support were battling the flames in steep terrain amid low humidity and high temperatures.
Northeast of Los Angeles, crews were making quick work of a 275-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 200 people from a campground and recreational areas.
The blaze that broke out Sunday afternoon above the foothill community of Glendora was 60 percent contained by Monday night and largely reduced to smoking embers.
Associated Press writers Chris Weber in Los Angeles and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.