Wildfire Burns Near Yosemite National Park, Prompts Evacuation Of Thousands

CREDIT: AP Photo, Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department

A firefighter controls the western edge of a California brush fire early Friday morning, June 27, 2014.

A wildfire burning near Yosemite park has forced the evacuation of thousands of people, destroyed buildings, and has closed a road leading into the park.

The blaze, which is known as the Junction Fire, encompasses nearly two square miles and is burning near the town of Oakhurst, which sits about 16 miles from an entrance to Yosemite Park. More than 600 firefighters are fighting to control the blaze, which is being driven by strong winds has forced evacuation orders for 13,000 people.

“There is nothing you can do when a fire is raging,” Clement Williams, a resident of Oakhurst who was forced to evacuate, told the AP. “You just have to flee. It’s a real sinking feeling.”

Two firefighters battling the fire have been injured, and the fire has destroyed eight structures and threatens another 500. Cal Fire’s incident page states that the “extreme” conditions of the fire, which has yet to be contained, are being driven by the extreme drought in California.

“Firefighters are hopeful that lower temperatures, a rise in humidity and less wind will provide them with the ability to establish containment lines, utilizing hand crews and dozers,” the page states.

Right now, 99.8 percent of California is experiencing “severe” drought conditions, the third-most severe ranking by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly 82 percent of the state is in extreme drought, the second-highest drought ranking, and 58 percent of the state is in the most severe ranking of drought.

Rhonda Salisbury, marketing director for the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, told the Fresno Bee that a fire that large hadn’t been seen in Oakhurst in more than 50 years.

“We’re all ready to get out our hoses,” she said. “We love this town and community and these firefighters have had such a hard time in the last couple years. We want to do what we can to help, but there’s not a lot of water and it’s hot and dry.”

The Junction Fire comes a few weeks after another fire that burned near Yosemite, one that also forced evacuations. The fire prompted a state of emergency declaration in Tuolumne County. The fire also comes about a year after the Rim Fire, which burned near Yosemite and was the third-largest fire in California’s history. Right now, the Junction Fire is one of more than 10 fires burning in California.

Earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in his state, due to the dozens of wildfires that were burning across the Golden State at the time. Dennis Mathisen, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the LA Times in at the time that the fire behavior witnessed in California usually isn’t seen until September.

“With warmer weather conditions, low humidity and some wind, and all you need is a spark, and a series of dry lightning strikes, and that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Soon after California’s emergency declaration, the White House released a video that linked worsening wildfires across the country to climate change, noting that the number of wildfires in the West have “increased several-fold in the last decade.”

“While no single wildfire can be said to be caused by climate change, climate change has been making the fire season in the U.S. longer and on average more intense,” White House science adviser John Holdren says in the video. “Climate change is also bringing us more dead trees — kindling in effect — killed by a combination of heat stress, water stress and attacks by pests and pathogens that multiply faster in a warmer world,” he continues.