A wildfire near Yosemite National Park has spread to more than 18,000 acres, spurred on by drought, dry vegetation and dead trees. The blaze, which emergency responders have named the Oak Fire, has ballooned to become California’s largest so far this year.
Since the fire began Friday afternoon, it has destroyed 41 structures and damaged three others in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Mariposa County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. The blaze has also forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate their homes, CNN’s Dakin Andone and Elizabeth Wolfe report.
With the fire 26 percent contained as of Tuesday, an additional 1,440 structures remained at risk. But firefighters remained optimistic and expect to have the fire fully contained by Saturday, reports the New York Times’ Thomas Fuller.
Officials are still investigating the fire’s cause. In the meantime, 2,991 firefighters are working to halt the blaze’s spread and limit its destruction.
California Gov. Gavin Newsome on Saturday proclaimed a state of emergency for Mariposa County and is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to address the disaster.
Emergency responders, meanwhile, are concerned about the speed of the fire’s spread and are urging residents to keep a close eye on evacuation maps and alerts, which can change at a moment’s notice.
"The fire behavior that we're seeing on this incident is really unprecedented," Jon Heggie, Cal Fire battalion chief, tells CNN. "It's moving extremely fast and the reaction time to get people out is limited because that fire is moving so fast."
Officials have closed the highway that leads to Yosemite, the 747,956-acre national park that battled the Washburn Fire earlier this month. The park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Wawona Campground remain closed for recovery from that fire, which is now 87 percent contained. Otherwise, the park remains open, though visitors can expect smoky conditions.
Smoke is also drifting north along the Sierra Nevada foothills, as well as creating hazy conditions in cities like Sacramento and San Francisco. Parts of Sierra National Forest are also closed because of the Oak Fire, per the U.S. Forest Service.
Wildfires like the Oak Fire are happening more often and they’re becoming more intense because of human-caused climate change, per a February 2022 report from the United Nations. Rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, decreased humidity and other conditions are fueling a “global wildfire crisis,” according to the report.
“The heating of the planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes, while more extreme weather means stronger, hotter, drier winds to fan the flames,” per the report.