Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire slows, res­i­dents try to re­cover

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Steve Valdez was back at work Satur­day at a hard­ware store, days af­ter his home and those of his neigh­bors were in­cin­er­ated in a gi­gan­tic wild­fire that swept through a ru­ral area of Cal­i­for­nia near Yosemite Na­tional Park. “This is a hard­ware store in a small town. There are peo­ple out there who de­pend upon us to get power, to get wa­ter, to get their equip­ment fixed,” said Valdez, a clerk at Coast Hard­ware Do It Best in Mari­posa. “They’re get­ting stuff to get by.”

The ag­gres­sive wild­fire sweep­ing through the Sierra Ne­vada foothills cov­ered with dense brush and dead trees has de­stroyed 60 homes and 64 other build­ings. It spared Mari­posa, a his­toric Gold Rush-era town but burned homes nearby. The blaze that erupted on July 16 scorched nearly 118 square miles (305 sq. kilo­me­ters) of trees and grass and con­tin­ued to threaten about 1,500 homes, but its spread had slowed dras­ti­cally.

“They are still out in front of an un­con­trolled fire but the fire isn’t mov­ing at 30 mph, the fire is crawl­ing along,” fire spokesman Bran­don Vac­caro said. Nearly 4,500 fire­fight­ers, air tankers and fleets of heli­copters and bull­doz­ers fought the blaze by chop­ping fire­breaks and dump­ing rivers of wa­ter and fire re­tar­dant.

The blaze fed on long grass that sprouted from a wet win­ter along with brush that had been stricken by five years of drought and trees killed off by a bee­tle in­fes­ta­tion. In some places, the flames were so fierce that “ev­ery bit of veg­e­ta­tion is gone and you’re down to the scorched earth,” Vac­caro said. The fire grew by up to 30,000 acres a day at its peak, but by the week­end the growth rate was down to about 1,000 acres a day de­spite dry, blis­ter­ing weather, he said. The blaze, mov­ing north­east, was 40 per­cent con­tained but it could take an­other two weeks for fire­fight­ers to fully sur­round it, Vac­caro said. The smoke blurred the scenic vis­tas of Yosemite Na­tional Park, about 35 miles west of the fire. Tourists ex­pect­ing the grandeur of falls and gran­ite peaks in­stead saw hazy gray sil­hou­ettes. Ken Welsh, 60, of New Zealand said he had been pre­pared to be “blown away by a Tech­ni­color dream” at Yosemite.

He shrugged his shoul­ders and headed back to the car. “It leaves a lot to the imag­i­na­tion, doesn’t it?” he told the Los An­ge­les Times. At its peak, the blaze forced about 5,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate. Some roads re­mained closed but Mari­posa, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 2,000, was com­ing back to life. Peo­ple were com­ing into the hard­ware store for plumb­ing parts and elec­tri­cal cords a day af­ter evac­u­a­tions were lifted.

Valdez said he de­cided to work even though his 4,400-square-foot home was among those de­stroyed. “Older peo­ple know that ev­ery­thing heals,” said Valdez, 60. “Ev­ery­thing gets bet­ter if you just keep plug­ging away.” Valdez and his wife had 20 min­utes to grab a few pho­to­graphs, bills and some fam­ily Bi­bles be­fore they fled the en­croach­ing flames.

MARI­POSA: An air tanker drops re­tar­dant while bat­tling a wild­fire.

—AP

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