California Oak Fire: Thousands evacuated as blaze spreads towards Yosemite
Firefighters deployed air tankers, bulldozers and hand crews to battle a fast-moving wildfire just west of California's Yosemite National Park on Sunday that suddenly grew into one of the largest fires of the year, forcing thousands of evacuations.
Fueled by extreme heat and tinder-dry forests and underbrush, the Oak Fire that began on Friday closed within half a mile (0.8 kilometres) from the town of Mariposa Pines, population 1,400, but was still more than 10 miles (16 kilometres) from Yosemite, famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees.
As of Sunday morning, the fire had consumed 14,281 acres (5,780 hectares), more than half the size of Paris, and was zero percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
More than 3,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders and another 2,000 were under a fire advisory, meaning they could soon be ordered to leave, a Cal Fire spokesperson said.
Firefighters had the most success establishing fire retention lines on the western side of the fire, but the fire also encroached further east toward the town of Mariposa Pines and in the direction of Yosemite, said Justin Macomb, a Cal Fire operations section chief, in a midday briefing.
"The fire is roughly about a half a mile away from Mariposa Pines at this time, but we have a good plan for today to protect the community of Mariposa Pines," Macomb said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
Yosemite, about an hour's drive from Mariposa County, is home to some of the largest and oldest sequoia trees in the world.
The trees had been threatened by another wildfire earlier this month, but firefighters managed to save them.
More than two decades of drought and rising temperatures have conspired to make California more vulnerable than ever to wildfires, with the two most-devastating years on record coming in 2020 and 2021, when more than 6.8 million acres (2.75 million hectares) burned, an area greater than the size of Rwanda.