SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California’s largest wildfire so far this year steadily expanded overnight after exploding in size over the weekend and forcing thousands of people to evacuate homes in remote areas just west of Yosemite National Park, officials said on Monday.
Fueled by extreme heat and tinder-dry forests and underbrush, the Oak Fire had consumed 16,791 acres (6,795 hectares) by Monday morning, an increase of 1,200 acres overnight, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
The fire, now more than half the size of Paris, was 10% contained as it moved east near the town of Mariposa Pines. It was still more than 10 miles (16 km) from Yosemite, famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees, which had been threatened this month by a separate fire that is now 80 percent contained.
“In certain areas of the fire perimeter there was minimal fire behavior last night. In other parts of the fire it remained active, especially in the timber due to high tree mortality,” said Jonathan Pierce, a Cal Fire spokesperson.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
Since beginning on Friday, the fire had chased more than 3,700 people from their homes, including Wes Smith, a Mariposa County Sheriff Department officer and his wife Jane. The couple lost their home of 37 years in the blaze, their son Nick wrote on a GoFundMe page.
“It is devastating to lose everything literally in the blink of an eye without notice,” he wrote.
The fire has destroyed 10 structures and damaged five, fire officials said.
High temperatures in the area on Monday were expected to reach 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C) with a slight breeze throughout the day. A chance of thunderstorms was in the forecast throughout the week, the National Weather Service said.
More than two decades of drought and rising temperatures have conspired to make California more vulnerable than ever to wildfires, with the two most devastating years on record coming in 2020 and 2021, when more than 6.8 million acres (2.75 million hectares) burned, an area greater than the size of Rwanda.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.