A roaring wildfire in the Sierra National Forest has grown to be one of the worst fires in California this year, burning more than 19,000 acres and causing thousands of people to evacuate, according to fire officials.
The Oak Fire started on Friday near Yosemite National Park and is being fought by more than 2,000 firefighters, helicopters, and bulldozers. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, the wildfire was 39% controlled by Thursday afternoon.
“The fire behavior that we’re seeing on this incident is really unprecedented,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said of the Oak Fire. “It’s moving extremely fast, and the reaction time to get people out is limited because that fire is moving so fast.”
“But the reality is, it’s moving so quickly, it’s not giving people a lot of time, and they are sometimes just going to have to evacuate with the shirts on their back,” he said. “But their life, safety, is obviously the most important thing.”
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday in response to the fire. According to the press release announcing the declaration, the wildfire has forced at least 3,000 people to leave their homes.
Over the weekend, 6,000 individuals received evacuation orders, and the blaze is threatening roughly 3,000 properties. Hector Vasquez, a spokesman for Cal Fire, reported a preliminary estimate that 10 buildings had been destroyed and five had been damaged. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that 41 structures had been destroyed.
Hot and dry weather, deadwood, and other materials on the forest floor that feed the flames have made it difficult to put out fires, according to Cal Fire spokespeople.
Due to the thick smoke and haze, the National Weather Service in Hanford, California, declared on Monday that the air quality in the vicinity of the fire was poor.
Authorities have not identified the cause of the wildfire.
Several wildfires have endangered national parks and forests this year, including the Oak Fire.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported, “Currently, 84 large fires and complexes have burned 3,071,353 acres in 13 states. Two new large fires were reported in Montana, and wildland firefighters contained 10 large fires yesterday. Four Type 1 incident management teams (IMT) and six Type 2 IMTs are assigned to incidents across the country. Residents near the Moose Fire in Idaho and the Oak Fire in California have been evacuated from their homes.”
The U.S. Forest Service launched an emergency plan on Friday to protect gigantic sequoias from these fires.
The organization said that it would not wait till environmental assessment processes were finished before starting to remove the underbrush from around the biggest trees in the world. Such thinning initiatives aid in removing the fuel that stokes the growth and spread of wildfires.
According to the Forest Service, the projects may start this summer instead of waiting years for permission as is customary. A statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture warned that nearly one-fifth of all giant sequoias have been destroyed by wildfire in the last two years.