Crews make progress against destructive fire near Yosemite

JERSEYDALE, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters continue to make progress against a huge California forest fire that forced evacuations for thousands of people and destroyed 41 homes and other buildings near Yosemite National Park, officials said Tuesday.

Crews battling the Oak Fire in Mariposa County got a break from increased humidity and lower temperatures as monsoonal moisture moved through the Sierra Nevada foothills, said a Tuesday night report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

After minimal growth Monday and overnight, the blaze had consumed nearly 29 square miles (75 square kilometers) of forest land, with 26% containment on Tuesday, Cal Fire said. The cause was under investigation.

“Although good progress continues on the fire, there is much work to be done,” Cal Fire said.

Crews were able to strengthen some areas of fire line although steep, rugged terrain was challenging firefighters on the northern and northeastern sides of the blaze, making it inaccessible to bulldozers and requiring fire lines to be cut by hand, Cal Fire said.

Smoke from the blaze also was hampering aircraft, the agency said.

About 6,000 residents from mountain communities were still under evacuation orders, although a few places were downgraded to advisories Tuesday afternoon.

Heavy smoke from the fire drifted more than 200 miles (322 kilometers), reaching Lake Tahoe, parts of Nevada and the San Francisco Bay Area, officials said.

More than 3,000 firefighters supported by two dozen helicopters and 94 bulldozers were battling the blaze that erupted last Friday southwest of the park, near the town of Midpines. It exploded in size on Saturday as flames churned through tinder-dry brush and trees amid the worst drought in decades.

Numerous roads were closed, including a stretch of State Route 140 that’s one of the main routes into Yosemite.

California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.

The Oak Fire burned as firefighters also made progress against an earlier blaze that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite. The Washburn Fire, spanning a 7.6-square-mile (19-square-km) area, was 91% contained on Tuesday after burning for more than two weeks and moving into the Sierra National Forest.

In North Texas, crews are battling a wildfire that destroyed 16 homes and damaged five others amid sweltering temperatures and strong winds. In a Tuesday statement, officials said there were “significant hotspots” throughout the Chalk Mountain Fire near Glen Rose involving unburned and partially burned fuels. The blaze was 20% contained.

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