Thousands flee as California’s wildfire season bites
UNITED STATES: The entire town of Mariposa – a Northern California enclave of about 2000 residents west of Yosemite National Park – has been evacuated, along with thousands of other people from the surrounding county, as a wildfire continues to consume tens of thousands of hectares in the area.
The Detwiler fire, which is sending plumes of smoke through much of the region and into the Sierra Nevada, already has burned more than 19,000ha and is just 7 per cent contained.
It is the latest flare in a string of large fires hitting California this month and is the second to qualify for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
It’s also the first fire this year to trigger an official ‘‘state of emergency’’ declaration from California Governor Jerry Brown, and it adds to an early and particularly intense fire season that already has burned nearly 52,000ha across the state, a significant increase over 2016.
The emergency declaration is partly due to the size of the fire and because it is threatening entire communities.
It also has led to the closure of Highway 140, a popular entry point to Yosemite. So far the park itself is not in the line of fire.
‘‘Yosemite is quite a bit east of where the fire’s at currently, but it’s at higher elevation, so anything could happen at this point,’’ said Scott McLean, a spokesman for CalFire, the state fire agency.
The same highway was closed last month because of rock slides caused by the high volume of runoff from massive winter snows and heavy rain. The winter deluge also is playing a role in this fire, McLean said.
‘‘The winter rains promoted so much growth that the grass crop has really been supporting all these fires,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s the fuse to the fire. It’s like carpets of brush, not just a bush here or there. And it’s very dry because even with the wet winter, we’re still dealing with impacts of the drought, and we will be for several years to come.’’
California is still covered with plants that didn’t survive the extended drought. Dead and dry, they’re perfect fuel for wildfires, especially when paired with the grass brought on by the winter.
This year’s sweltering heat also hasn’t helped. It was well above 38 degrees Celsius in Mariposa County yesterday, with low humidity. Firefighters typically will see gains at night, when temperatures drop and humidity increases, but that’s happening less and less. And the weekend is expected to bring temperatures that could rise to 43C.
– Washington Post.