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Oak Fire explodes to more than 6,500 acres, destroying at least 10 buildings and forcing evacuations near Yosemite National Park

Oak Fire explodes to more than 6,500 acres, destroying at least 10 buildings and forcing evacuations near Yosemite National Park

A wildfire that erupted Friday near Yosemite National Park in Mariposa County has torched more than 6,000 acres, triggered widespread evacuations and on Saturday threatened 2,000 structures.

The Oak Fire had scorched 6,555 acres in Mariposa County, burning faster than any other California wildfire so far this year without any containment by fire crews as of Saturday morning, according to official estimates from Cal Fire.

Map of Oak and Washburn Fire in Mariposa Co. as of July 23, 2022The blaze broke out in the vicinity of State Route 140 and Carstens Road — a heavily forested area in the Midpines region of Mariposa County — and then roared into the wildlands beyond the point of origin, prompting evacuations across the county, Cal Fire said.

As of Saturday morning, the fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five more. The fast-growing blaze prompted Caltrans to order numerous road closures, including a shutdown of Highway 140 between Carstens Road and Allred Road — blocking one of the main routes into Yosemite National Park.

Map: Oak Fire evacuations and perimeter near Yosemite

Large columns of smoke hung in the air over the Sierra Foothills, visible as far as nearly 50 miles away in the Merced area on Friday evening. State fire officials were investigating what caused the wildfire to ignite.

“Fire activity is extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group torching,” Cal Fire stated in a post on its incident site. “Emergency personnel are working to safely evacuate people and are actively engaged in protecting structures. Explosive fire behavior is challenging firefighters.”

Lending to the fire’s rapid expansion on Friday is the nature of the Midpines region’s terrain — steep and rugged, with a heavy fuel load due to a lack of recent fire history in the area, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Natasha Fouts.

MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 23: Firefighters park above the Oak Fire as they monitor the blaze burning near Yosemite National Park in Mariposa, Calif., early Saturday morning July 23, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 23: Firefighters park above the Oak Fire as they monitor the blaze burning near Yosemite National Park in Mariposa, Calif., early Saturday morning July 23, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

“There are a lot of tree mortalities in the area that produce more bark fuel,” Fouts said, “and if the winds torque the trees, that produces more embers, which could create spot fires that our firefighters have to deal with.”

Fortunately, the region is expected to see cooler temperatures on Saturday, accompanied by calmer winds that could slow the blaze’s spread: “We’re hoping all that will work in our favor,” she said.

Yosemite National Park saw its own blaze earlier this month when the Washburn Fire broke out in the area of Mariposa Grove, burning 4,800 acres with 79% containment by fire crews as of Friday and no homes destroyed.

By comparison, the Oak Fire is significantly faster-moving — official accounts show it had quickly gained momentum in its early stages.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office ordered mandatory evacuations in an area that included the Midpines community. The evacuations have reached beyond the community of Jerseydale in Mariposa County.

The ArcGIS mapping and analytics service showed that the area of mandatory evacuations has grown rapidly.

A firefighter extinguishes flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. Crews were able to to stop it from reaching an adjacent home. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter extinguishes flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. Crews were able to to stop it from reaching an adjacent home. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Just one hour after Cal Fire had estimated the blaze’s size at 60 acres, the wildfire had swiftly expanded to a size that exceeded 600 acres. An hour after that it had more than doubled in size to 1,300 acres. The fire’s size continued to expand dramatically during the night.

An evacuation center was set up at Mariposa Elementary School, 5044 Jones St. in Mariposa. The spread of the fire was so rapid that an initial evacuation center had to be abandoned due to safety concerns. So far, there’s no official count of the number of residents who have been told to evacuate, Fouts said.

Some of Mariposa County’s popular rural wineries and farms fall in the area’s evacuation zones. But the area’s historic downtown — filled with local restaurants and hotels — remains safely to the east.

Here is a list of road closures as of Saturday morning:

Carstens Road, Triangle Rd from Hwy 140 to Hwy 49 south, Buckingham Mt. Rd, Plumbar Creek Rd, Jerseydale Rd and all side roads, Hwy 140 from Allred Rd to Ponderosa Way, Darrah Rd, Silva Rd from Triangle to Cole Rd, Cole Rd, McNally Rd, Boyer Rd and all side roads, Brooks Rd, Woodland Dr, Carelton Rd to Morningstar Rd and Morningstar Rd.

Evacuation orders apply to these roads:

Carstens Rd, Buckingham Mt. Rd, Plumbar Creek Rd, Triangle Rd from Hwy 140 to Highway 49 south, Carter Rd, Darrah Rd from Triangle to Valley View and all sides of the road, Silva Rd from Triangle to Van Ness Rd, Boyer Rd from Hwy 49 south and all side roads, Darrah Rd from the stop light to Triangle Rd, Triangle Rd from Hwy 49 south to Westfall Road and all side roads including Triangle Park, Tip Top Rd, Wass Rd, Westfall from Triangle to Oliver Creek. Silva Rd from Cole to Triangle and all side roads, Gingers Trish Rd, Cole Rd to Darrah Rd including all side roads, Darrah Rd from Hwy 49s to Triangle Rd including all side roads, McNally Rd. Hwy 49 south from Darrah Rd to Triangle east side of the road (Bootjack Market Side), Woodland Dr, Brooks Rd, Indian Rock Ln, Morningstar Rd from Carleton to Allred and all side roads, Carleton Rd. from Triangle to Morningstar.

  • A structure burns as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd....

    A structure burns as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Flames consume a home on Triangle Rd. as the Oak...

    Flames consume a home on Triangle Rd. as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Flames engulf a chair inside a burning home as the...

    Flames engulf a chair inside a burning home as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Firefighter Joanna Jimenez holds a dog she found wandering in...

    Firefighter Joanna Jimenez holds a dog she found wandering in a fire evacuation zone as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • A plane drops retardant while battling the Oak Fire in...

    A plane drops retardant while battling the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Firefighters help an elderly man from his car, seen at...

    Firefighters help an elderly man from his car, seen at right, after he crashed into a ditch while driving away from the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • A firefighter removes a jacket from a car that crashed...

    A firefighter removes a jacket from a car that crashed into a ditch while driving away from the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. A police officer gave the elderly driver a ride out of the fire evacuation zone. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Flames rise above Darrah Rd. as the Oak Fire burns...

    Flames rise above Darrah Rd. as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • An air tanker flies above the Oak Fire burning in...

    An air tanker flies above the Oak Fire burning in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • A firefighter extinguishes flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah...

    A firefighter extinguishes flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. Crews were able to to stop it from reaching an adjacent home. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • A firefighter runs to extinguish flames as the Oak Fire...

    A firefighter runs to extinguish flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. Crews were able to to stop it from reaching an adjacent home. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • Flames leap from trees as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah...

    Flames leap from trees as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • U.S. Forest firefighters stand along Triangle Road watching a wildfire...

    U.S. Forest firefighters stand along Triangle Road watching a wildfire called the Oak Fire burn east of Midpines in Mariposa County, Calif., Friday, July 22, 2022. The fast-moving wildfire near Yosemite National Park erupted Friday afternoon and prompted evacuations even as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)

  • Flames rise above Darrah Rd. as the Oak Fire burns...

    Flames rise above Darrah Rd. as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  • MERCED, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Smoke from the Oak Fire...

    MERCED, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Smoke from the Oak Fire burning near Mariposa in the Sierra foothills fills the sky near Merced, Calif., Friday, July 22, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Embers fly from a tree...

    MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Embers fly from a tree being consumed in the Oak Fire burning west of Yosemite Park on Triangle Road in Mariposa, Calif., Friday, July 22, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Smoke from the Oak Fire...

    MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: Smoke from the Oak Fire fills the skies beyond an evacuation center at the fairgrounds in Mariposa, Calif., Friday, July 22, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: A deer flees the Oak...

    MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA – JULY 22: A deer flees the Oak Fire burning west of Yosemite Park on Triangle Road in Mariposa, Calif., Friday, July 22, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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