MARIPOSA (AP) — An unattended campfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park has grown into a blaze that has led to the evacuations of 800 homes and 1,500 people, officials said Tuesday.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials released the cause of the fire Tuesday, as 2,200 firefighters - up from more than 700 Monday - worked to gain the upper hand on it amid windy, dry conditions. No other details were available about where the fire started, spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said.
The fire 6 miles northeast of Mariposa has burned more than 2 square miles and was 15 percent contained. Though temperatures were down, officials feared the weather conditions could still fuel the flames, officials said.
The fire, which started Sunday, has not grown in size from Monday evening but is burning on the interior, Guillemin said. One firefighter suffered a minor injury, but no structures have been damaged or destroyed. Crews are clearing brush to create defensive space around homes, laying fire line and dropping retardant from the air.
In Mariposa, state Route 140 into Yosemite National Park remains open. Tourists can see some smoke from the road itself, but it does not affect visitors in the park, said Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman. The fire is burning about 35 miles west of the park boundary, Gediman said.
"Visitors coming into the park are fine," he said. "We're not discouraging visits, just the opposite. If people have plans, there's absolutely no reason for them not to come."
Fire officials said fire danger is extreme in California this year, due to an especially dry spring. Already this year, more than 80 square miles have burned across the state. At this time last year, only about 30 square miles had burned. Cal Fire has responded to 2,600 fires so far in 2013, a 75 percent increase from 2012, officials said.
Samantha Weber, who lives in Midpines, a rugged, unincorporated area about 35 miles west of Yosemite, said she knew the fire near Yosemite was headed for her home when she saw charred leaves drifting at her.
"I saw entire leaves that are blackened and blistered just floating through the air," Weber told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They looked like birds."
The fire was helped by swirling winds and dry conditions that residents said are severe and arrived surprisingly early this year.
"It is kind of always dry here in the summer," Weber said. "But it was an especially dry spring, so things are really dry."
Ed Helms, his wife and three adult children were told to evacuate their home in Hites Cove on Sunday as they celebrated Father's Day in the backyard.
"We had to leave the steaks we were cooking on the barbecue to pack up and get out," Helms told the Modesto Bee.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter in Mariposa for evacuees.
An estimated 94 percent of wildfires have human causes, Guillemin said.
"Humans need to stop and think fire prevention before they do anything outdoors, so they can help prevent fires," she said.