MARIPOSA (AP) — A deadly forest fire kept spreading Wednesday west of Yosemite National Park, and erratic winds and trees killed by a historic California drought are expected to pose more problems for firefighters, officials said.
The blaze between the park and the town of Mariposa that’s popular with visitors has scorched 27 square miles (70 square kilometers) of dry brush and timber and is largely burning out of control, said Richard Eagan, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Forecasters expect thunderstorms Thursday afternoon to produce erratic, gusty winds that can be dangerous for more than 1,800 firefighters trying to stop the flames that started Friday. Another concern is thousands of trees killed by a yearslong drought.
“Dead trees are everywhere, north and south of the state, and when you add strong winds that can send ambers flying up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), it can pose a huge risk for firefighters,” Eagan said.
The flames have shut down Highway 140, a key route into the park, during tourist season and forced evacuations in nearby communities. But three other park entrances were open, as were trails, campgrounds, restaurants and lodges, though smoke is polluting the air and limiting visibility.
Smoke from the fire about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the park’s west entrance may be heavy at times, and visitors should be prepared to limit heavy outdoor activity when air quality is poor, park officials said.