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Wildfire near Yosemite National Park increases in size

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A rapidly progressing wildfire near Yosemite National Park exploded in size on Saturday, prompting evacuations even as firefighters made headway against a previous blaze that burned to the edge of a forest of giant redwoods

The Oak Fire, which began Friday afternoon southwest of the park near Midpines in Mariposa County, grew to 10.2 square miles (26.5 square kilometers) by Saturday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

“Explosive fire behavior is a challenge for firefighters,” Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday morning describing fire activity as “extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group flares.”

By Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial buildings and damaged five others, the Mercury News reported. The burgeoning fire prompted Caltrans to order numerous road closures, including a closure of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road – blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite National Park.

Hot weather and bone-dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades were the cause of the fire, challenging firefighters, said Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest.

“The fire is moving fast. This fire yesterday threw glowing coals up to 2 miles long,” Patterson said. “These are exceptional fire conditions.”

About 1,700 residents in the area received a mandatory evacuation order on Friday evening.

An elderly man without shoes who tried to flee crashed his sedan into a ditch in a closed area and was helped by firefighters. He was driven safely out of the area and appeared to be uninjured. Several other residents remained in their homes Friday night as the fire continued to burn nearby. Nothing is immediately known about the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, firefighters have made significant progress against a wildfire that started in Yosemite National Park and burned out in the Sierra National Forest. The Washburn Fire was contained 79% on Friday after burning approximately 19.4 square kilometers of forest.

The fire broke out on July 7, forcing the south entrance to Yosemite to close and evacuate the community of Wawona as it burned on the edge of Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant redwoods, the world’s largest trees by volume. Wawona Road will reopen on Saturday for the time being, according to the park website.

(AP)

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