Wildfire near Yosemite National Park explodes in size

WAWONA, Calif. (AP) — A fast-moving wildfire near Yosemite National Park erupted Saturday and prompted evacuations even as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze that was burning at the edge of a grove of giant sequoias.

The Oak Fire, which started Friday afternoon southwest of the park near Midpines in Mariposa County, grew to 10.2 square miles (26.5 square kilometers) Saturday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry. and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

“Explosive fire behavior is a challenge for firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday morning that described fire activity as “extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group fires.”

By Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five others, the Mercury News reported. The rapidly growing fire prompted Caltrans to order numerous road closures, including the closure of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road, blocking one of the main roads into Yosemite National Park.

Hot weather and dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades were fueling the blaze and challenging fire crews, said Daniel Patterson, spokesman for the Sierra National Forest.

“The fire moves quickly. This fire was throwing embers ahead of it up to 2 miles yesterday,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.”

About 1,700 residents of the area were placed under mandatory evacuation orders on Friday evening.

A barefoot elderly man trying to flee crashed his sedan into a ditch in a closed area and was helped by firefighters. He was led safely out of the area and does not appear to have suffered any injuries. Several other residents remained at home Friday night as the fire continued to burn nearby.

There is no immediate word on what started the fire.

Meanwhile, firefighters made significant progress against a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and burned through the Sierra National Forest.

The Washburn Fire was 79% contained on Friday after burning about 7.5 square miles (19.4 square kilometers) of forest.

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

Wawona Road is tentatively set to reopen on Saturday, according to the park’s website.