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FIRE NEAR YOSEMITE

Some of 1,000 evacuees in Madera can go home

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POSTED August 19, 2014 6:36 p.m.

OAKHURST  — Officials say they have gained the upper hand on a central California blaze in the foothills near Yosemite National Park that forced more than 1,000 residents to flee their homes.

State fire spokesman Chris Christopherson said Tuesday afternoon that the wildfire near the Madera County town of Oakhurst burned less than a square mile, revising earlier estimates of about twice that size.

Flames erupted Monday near the town about 16 miles from Yosemite, forcing evacuations of more than 1,000 people overnight. Some residents are now being allowed to return home, but it’s unclear how many.

The fire that destroyed eight buildings is 30 percent contained.

 Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for about 1,000 people, and another 4,000 were told to prepare to leave their homes, sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart said. The park was not affected.

The fire comes amid California’s third straight year of drought, creating tinder-dry conditions that have significantly increased the fire danger around the state and sent firefighters scrambling seemingly nonstop from blaze to blaze.

Evacuated residents in Oakhurst braced for the worst.

“There is nothing you can do when a fire is raging,” said Clement Williams, 67. “You just have to flee. It’s a real sinking feeling.”

Williams and his wife, Gretchen Williams, 63, were trying to get information about the fire and their home from officials. They spent the night at a nearby hotel and casino.

Oakhurst was smoky, and businesses downtown were closed as the fire burned about a mile away. Flames were not visible from the downtown area as they moved away from town toward a nearby reservoir and resort community, state fire spokesman Chris Christopherson said.

Wes Qualls, 50, was visiting Yosemite from Katy, Texas, with his wife and 9-year-old son, but they were cut off from their motel in Oakhurst by the fire. They found a room for the night in a nearby town but planned to cut the trip short.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “Some people spent the night in their cars.”

The fire comes on the heels of another blaze around Yosemite this summer and last year’s Rim Fire, which raged for two months across 400 square miles of land including part of Yosemite National Park.

The Rim Fire threatened thousands of structures, destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Last month’s fire, which also burned in the park, threatened about 100 homes and sent smoke into Yosemite’s famed valley before it was brought under control.

Meanwhile, an out-of-control blaze that began Monday some 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield surged to nearly 5 square miles, or 3,195 acres.

“It burned north, south and east,” said Cindy Thill, a fire spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. “It went uphill and downhill at the same time.”

The fire burning near Lake Isabella in Kern County brought recommended evacuation orders for about 200 homes in several neighborhoods, the Forest Service said. A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at Kern Valley High School in Lake Isabella.

Some structures burned, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many or if any were homes, Thill said. There was no containment of the fire Tuesday afternoon.

More than 450 firefighters with air support were battling the flames in steep terrain amid low humidity and high temperatures.

Northeast of Los Angeles, crews made quick work of a 274-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 200 people from a campground and recreational areas. The blaze that broke out Sunday above the foothill community of Glendora was 80 percent contained by Tuesday afternoon and largely reduced to smoking embers.

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