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Oak Fire threatening Yosemite - California’s largest wildfire this year

The Oak Fire began on Friday afternoon and quickly spread. Firefighters are making progress, but Yosemite and thousands of structures are still in danger.

Update:
California’s largest wildfire threatens Yosemite
DAVID MCNEWGetty

The Oak Fire in Mariposa County began on Friday afternoon and has quickly spread to become the largest in California this year. The season got off to a slow start but the Golden State is in its third year of severe drought and the peak season generally runs through October but has been getting longer each year.

Firefighters are making progress bringing the blaze 32 percent under control attacking it from the ground and air in difficult terrain. But, still it has charred nearly 19-thousand acres so far claiming over 40 structures. The fast-moving flames are burning dangerously close to over 1,000 more buildings and present a threat to Yosemite National Park.

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Cause of Oak Fire still unknown

It took the Oak Fire just a matter of hours to reach the Sierra National Forest after it ignited a little after 2 pm on Friday 22 July. It started near the community of Midpines between Mariposa and Yosemite and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.

Although evacuation orders have been reduced, those areas are still under fire advisements, allowing people back to their homes but they need to be ready to leave quickly should the blaze spread.

Cal Fire still hasn’t determined a cause for what sparked the largest wildfire so far this year. The flames have burned 18,715 acres and engulfed 42 homes. The remoteness of the area means that there is currently only one evacuation center to go to for those who have had to flee their homes. Cal Fire has provided an evacuation map and road closures in the areas affected by the Oak Fire, updated regularly by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.

Other fires that have threatened Yosemite

The first week in July saw another fire start in the southern part of Yosemite National Park and threaten the Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 mature giant sequoias and the largest of its kind in the park. The Washburn Fire is now 91 percent contained having burned nearly 4,900 acres.

The Ferguson Fire was the last major wildfire to threaten the iconic park was in 2018 charring almost 97,000 acres and burned for 174 days before it was fully contained. But that fire pales in comparison to the 2013 Rim Fire which devastated over 257,000 acres penetrating deep into the park. At the time it became the third largest wildfire in California’s history.

Since then, it’s been knocked down to number eleven. Nine of the twenty largest wildfires in California happened in the past two years, five of them in 2020 alone. The Golden State has been in near continuous drought since 2006 with only mild respites blamed on climate change. These dry conditions create the perfect situation which allow fires to rapidly gain strength and swallow up large tracts of land.

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