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Fire near Yosemite continues to rage: ‘In my career, I haven’t seen fire like that’

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A firefighter extinguishes flames burning a stack of logs near Darrah and Triangle roads as the Oak Fire moves through the area east of Mariposa on Saturday, July 23, 2022.

Katie Dowd, Amy Graff

SFGate, San Francisco

LATEST July 24, 8 p.m. The Oak Fire burning near Yosemite grew about 1,300 acres in the last 12 hours, going from 14,281 acres this morning to 15,603 this evening, Cal Fire said in an update Sunday night.

The blaze has spread through the dry landscape at an astonishing rate since igniting on Friday afternoon, forcing 3,800 people to evacuate their homes in Mariposa County.

Justin Macomb, Cal Fire team 5 operations section chief, said the fire “outflanked” firefighters when it first broke out.

“In my career, I haven’t seen fire like that,” said Macomb.

While there is still no containment, Macomb said crews made progress in stopping growth on the southern side and the western edge along Highway 140 where the blaze started.

“Today was the first day that I felt confident with this southern piece,” he said. “I didn’t want the fire to progress any further south. So we were able to get hand line and dozers. We sent everything we could to try to get direct line around the south and stop the southern spread. So that was a win for me.”

Macomb said structure protection continues in Lush Meadows, a community that was evacuated, and crews are working to build containment lines around Snow Creek. The fire is most active in its northeast section in the Footman Ridge area.

Flames made a hard run toward Bear Clover Lane and Jerseydale Road this morning, Macomb said.

“We were able to stop the fire, and Bear Clover is closed as of now,” he said.

Cal Fire Chief Mike van Loben Sels said the growth of the fire was “pretty amazing” considering how fast resources were on the scene actively battling flames. “We really threw everything at this thing across from the beginning,” he said. “When you start to see spots that mile mile and a half out in front. It’s very concerning to me.”

You can watch the complete update on Cal Fire’s Facebook page.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Cal Fire said full containment is not expected until at least July 30

July 24, 6:09 a.m. A raging wildfire ballooned from 1,600 to 11,900 acres in a single day, forcing thousands of people in Mariposa County to evacuate their homes.

The Oak Fire began on Friday afternoon near Midpines, a town about 20 miles south of the Yosemite National Park gateway of El Portal. Scorching temperatures paired with low humidity have helped the fire erupt through dry vegetation and dead trees. Cal Fire estimates 2,693 structures are currently threatened; 10 structures have been destroyed and five damaged.

On Friday evening, the Oak Fire was mapped at 1,600 acres, and it hit 11,900 acres on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, Cal Fire said the blaze has burned 14,281 acres. “The fire remained active through the night moving toward the communities of Jerseydale, Darrah and Bootjack,” Cal Fire wrote in its Sunday incident report. “Poor humidity recovery was observed overnight. Today the weather is expected to remain hot with minimum humidity between 5 and 10%, which will hamper firefighting efforts.”

Fire crews have no containment.

“The fire is moving quickly. This fire was throwing embers out in front of itself for up to two miles yesterday,” Sierra National Forest spokesperson Daniel Patterson said Saturday. “These are exceptional fire conditions.”

Pyrocumulus clouds billowing from the fire can be seen for miles around. Wildfires are capable of creating their own weather, sometimes referred to as a firestorm. As the fire burns hot and intense at the ground level, heat rises rapidly and creates a vacuum. Air rushes in to fill that vacuum, and the resulting updraft is powerful enough to carry debris, form a firenado and make its own lightning.

The blaze prompted numerous road closures, including a shutdown of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road — blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite. PG&E said on its website that more than 2,600 homes and businesses in the area had lost power as of Friday afternoon and there was no indication when it would be restored. ” PG&E is unable to access the affected equipment,” the utility said.

A shoeless man attempting to flee the blaze on Friday crashed his sedan into a ditch in a closed area and was helped by firefighters. He was safely driven from the area and did not appear to suffer any injuries. Several other residents stayed in their homes Friday night as the fire burned nearby.

Meanwhile, firefighters have made significant progress against a wildfire that began in Yosemite National Park and burned into the Sierra National Forest. The Washburn Fire was 79% contained Sunday after burning about 7.5 square miles of forest. It was one of the largest fires of the year in California, along with the Lost Lake Fire in Riverside County that was fully contained in June at 9 square miles.

The Washburn Fire broke out July 7 and forced the closure of the southern entrance to Yosemite and evacuation of the community of Wawona as it burned on the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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