Rag­ing wild­fire

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

Flames rise Wednes­day be­hind a va­cant house as a fire­fighter works to halt the Detwiler wild­fire near Mari­posa, Calif. As wild­fires rage through­out the western United States, one Cal­i­for­nia blaze in the rugged moun­tains out­side of Yosemite Na­tional Park forced thou­sands of nearby res­i­dents to flee their homes.

MARI­POSA, Calif. — A surg­ing wild­fire raced through Cal­i­for­nia moun­tains and foothills west of Yosemite Na­tional Park on Wednes­day, forc­ing thou­sands to flee tiny, Gold Rush-era towns and waft­ing smoky haze over the park’s land­mark Half Dome rock face.

The 4-day-old blaze nearly dou­bled in size overnight from about 40 square miles to more than 70 square miles, the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion said.

At its clos­est, the blaze was still about 35 miles from the bound­ary of Yosemite, where camp­grounds are open, park spokesman Scott Ged­i­man said. The fire closed one of sev­eral roads into the park dur­ing its busy sum­mer sea­son, and rangers warned vis­i­tors with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems to be mind­ful of the haze, Ged­i­man said.

Among park vis­i­tors Ged­i­man talked to, “peo­ple un­der­stand­ing fire is a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring thing,” he said. “No­body was up­set about it.”

Yosemite does not ap­pear at risk from the fire, which was mov­ing south Wednes­day, away from the park, Cal­i­for­nia fire spokesman Jor­dan Motta said. The fire has forced more than 4,000 peo­ple from homes in and around a half-dozen small com­mu­ni­ties, of­fi­cials said.

Heavy smoke hung in the air over Mari­posa, a town of 2,000 with cen­tury-old wooden build­ings, in­clud­ing what’s touted as the oldest ac­tive courthouse west of the Rocky Moun­tains.

Down­town Mari­posa was empty ex­cept for fire­fight­ers and other emer­gency work­ers. Flames were vis­i­ble on slopes about a mile away.

The fire was threat­en­ing about 1,500 homes and other build­ings, af­ter al­ready de­stroy­ing eight struc­tures. It’s not clear what type of build­ings burned. It is burn­ing near Cal­i­for­nia 49, a his­tor­i­cal route wind­ing its way up Cal­i­for­nia foothills of the western Sierra Ne­vada dot­ted with lit­tle towns that sprouted along the gold mother lode that drew min­ers to Cal­i­for­nia in the 1800s. Record rain and snow­fall in the moun­tains this win­ter abruptly ended Cal­i­for­nia’s five-year drought. But that has in­creased the chal­lenge for crews bat­tling flames feed­ing on dense veg­e­ta­tion.

AP/NOAH BERGER

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