National Park

California Oak Fire destroys at least 42 structures as it burns over 18,000 acres near Yosemite National Park

The blaze grew only slightly on Tuesday – to 18,532 acres and containment remained at 26%, according to an update from national fire management agency Cal Fire.

“While good progress continues on the fire, there is still a lot of work to be done,” the update reads. Officials said several evacuation orders had been superseded by fire advisories.

Some areas are inaccessible to bulldozers, so dismounted teams cut a line of fire and smoke from the blaze hampered the response of the 24 helicopter units involved.

A firefighter stood Wednesday morning in a place where he had been able to prevent the flames from advancing.

“For the past two days what we’ve been doing is coming back with hoes and… hand tools. We’re digging out all the fumes and hot spots to make sure nothing ends up on the side… side green (where the vegetation has not been burned),” firefighter Travis Gooch told CNN’s Adrienne Broaddus. “It’s a bit of a relief that everything seems to be holding up as it should.”

Gooch, who is from Manteca, said he and his crew worked nights and slept about an hour on their fire engines.

“The first night we were here, no one slept,” he said. “So last night to sleep in for an hour. That was good. Everyone can’t wait to get back to camp and sleep for today.”

No firefighters have been injured since the start of the blaze, the cause of which is under investigation.

A total of 42 individual residence structures and 19 outbuildings were destroyed in the fire, according to the update.

More than 1,100 structures remain under threat.

On Tuesday morning, Cal Fire officials said in the night’s incident report, “Fire crews continue to defend the structure, extinguish hot spots, and build and improve lines. direct. Persistent drought, extremely dry fuels and tree mortality continue to contribute to the spread of the fire. .”

More than 3,000 people are tackling the blaze, deploying air and ground efforts, including two dozen helicopters, 286 fire trucks, 68 water tenders and 94 bulldozers, according to Cal Fire.

Difficult terrain and abundant dry vegetation fueling the fire have complicated efforts to curb its growth, said Cal Fire spokesman Cpt. Keith Wade told CNN on Monday.

“The footprint here, the area of ​​fuels available to burn when the fire starts, and the topography available – the canyons, the drainages – the wind flowing through those areas, can make the fire behave erratically and it can explode. .. the ferocity of this fire can be intense at times,” Wade said.

The Oak Fire is California’s largest fire season so far, according to Cal Fire data. But it remains relatively small compared to other California wildfires in recent years: It’s dwarfed, for example, by fires like last year’s Dixie Fire, which consumed more than 960,000 acres, or the August Complex Fire the previous year that burned over a million acres. – the largest ever seen by the state.

There have been 23 wildfires in California so far this month, according to Cal Fire, but only three have exceeded 500 acres. No one came close to the massive destruction of the Oak Fire, in part because of extremely dry conditions in the area, Wade said.

Firefighters clear hot spots while battling Oak Fire in California.

“I think the real difference firefighters feel on this one is how dry everything is, it has certainly been (drier) over the years,” he said. “We’ve noticed there seems to be less precipitation, less humidity and the available fuel load is definitely there.”

The blaze’s rapid growth has also made evacuation efforts more difficult, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie told CNN on Monday, noting that officials and law enforcement were doing their best. to notify residents when they were due to leave.

“The reality is it’s moving so fast, it doesn’t give people a lot of time and sometimes they’re going to have to evacuate with the shirts on their backs,” Heggie said.

Incremental progress by fire crews has allowed officials to reduce evacuation orders in some areas to fire advisories, Cal Fire said.

An evacuation shelter has been set up at Mariposa Elementary School for displaced residents.

Mariposa County has been under a state of emergency since Saturday, when Governor Gavin Newsom announced the proclamation.
Southern California fire officials expect this summer to bring a particularly difficult fire season due to increased wildfire frequency and dry, hot conditions across much of the state.
Firefighters are working to contain hot spots from the Oak Fire, which began burning on Friday.

Heggie attributed the “speed and intensity” of the Oak Fire to the state’s prolonged drought and human-caused climate change.

“What I can tell you is that this is a direct result of what climate change is,” he said. “You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we’re now paying the price for that 10-year drought and climate change.”

California is among the western states that have suffered from a prolonged mega-drought that has been greatly exacerbated by the climate crisis.

“That dead fuel that’s resulted from that climate change and that drought is what’s driving them, what we now call ‘mega fires,'” Heggie said.

The western United States isn’t alone in facing extreme fire conditions. Wildfires around the world have intensified and become more common, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. The report’s analysis found that the number of extreme wildfire events will increase by 30% by 2050.

The report suggests it’s time we “learn to live with fire”, urging authorities and policy makers to work with local communities to use indigenous knowledge and invest in planning and prevention efforts.

CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Taylor Romine, Stella Chan, Sara Smart and Rachel Ramirez contributed to this report.