One of California’s biggest wildfires this year exploded to over 14,000 acres on Sunday, forcing thousands to flee as the blaze near Yosemite National Park burned out of control.
The Oak Fire erupted Friday in Mariposa County, near the small town of Midpines. 12 miles east, firefighters made progress against the Washburn Fire near Yosemite that threatened the park’s largest and most iconic sequoia grove.
The Washburn Fire is 80% contained after two weeks of firefighting, but the Oak Fire remains 0% contained as of Sunday afternoon, according to Cal Fire.
The 2,000 firefighters battling the blaze will encounter tough conditions including low humidity, high temperatures, and steep terrain, Cal Fire said. The agency also dispatched 17 helicopters, 225 fire engines, 58 dozers, and 23 water tenders to fight the Oak Fire.
WILDFIRE, PANDEMIC, GAS PRICES, REPEAT: It’s been a tough run for Yosemite businesses
HOW DO YOU SAVE GIANT SEQUOIAS FROM WILDFIRES?: Sprinklers, trenches and sometimes foil blankets
By Sunday afternoon, the blaze had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five, according to Cal Fire. Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 3,100 homes and businesses in the area had lost power, with no indication when it would be restored.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for Mariposa County because of the fire, and over 6,000 people in the remote Sierra Nevada foothills were evacuated. A handful of residents defied the orders and stayed behind, said Adrienne Freeman with the U.S. Forest Service.
“We urge people to evacuate when told,” Freeman said. “This fire is moving very fast.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Cal Fire said.
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years with climate change warming and drying the western U.S. over the past three decades. Wildfires will likely become even more unpredictable, frequent, and destructive, scientists have warned.
Contributing: The Associated Press