The fire, dubbed “Oak Fire,” broke out on Friday near the small town of Midpines and has already covered nearly 6,800 hectares of vegetation according to the latest report.
More than 2,500 firefighters backed by 17 helicopters still battled the flames from last night’s “explosive” fire that continued to spread at an “extremely fast” rate in the wooded hills of central California near famous Yosemite National Park.
Already the largest wildfire in California this season, “it’s progressing very quickly and the reaction window for evacuating people is limited,” explained CNN’s John Hagee, who is in charge of California firefighters. According to the expert, the speed of progress and the behavior of this fire are “really unprecedented.”
“The height of the flames was 30 metres,” David Lee, one of the evacuees, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The 55-year-old was among the first evacuees on Friday and it is believed that his house was engulfed in flames. “He was heading straight for us. This fire is the fastest I’ve ever seen,” the resident added.
The “oak fire” was only up to 10% contained on Monday, July 25, after dozens of buildings were destroyed, but emergency services fear that number will rise rapidly.
ud83c uddfa ud83c uddf8 UNITED STATES: In California, massive fire season begins with the “Oak Fire” sweeping through the Yosemite forest. pic.twitter.com/adz0MVZeAx
– Telesud (@Telesud_) 25 July 2022
The fire threatens a few thousand homes in small rural towns in Mariposa County, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where thousands of people remain under evacuation orders. John Hagee described it as a “huge fire,” fed especially by dead trees and withered shrubs in this area, which, like most of California, is prone to chronic drought.
“It’s a direct result of climate change,” the fire chief said. “You can’t go through ten years of drought in California and expect things to not change.”
Chronic drought and heat waves
Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Pearce said low humidity and high temperatures were fueling the blaze. “We also have a high rate of trees in Mariposa County, so there are a lot of dead trees standing, a lot of dead trees on the ground,” he added. Officials said about 3,000 people had been evacuated so far.
Yosemite, one of the most famous parks in the world, was hit by a fire in mid-July, and giant sequoias were threatened by flames. These trees have been preserved for several thousand years thanks to the decades-old controlled fires in these orchards to reduce fuel on the ground.
\ ud83d \ udd25 \ ud83c \ udf32 California continues to battle fires that authorities say are out of control. Nearly 6000 hectares were destroyed, and thousands of people were evacuated. An oak fire is now threatening the thousand-year-old redwoods in Yosemite National Park. pic.twitter.com/0ZuGZzSF0u
– TV5MONDE info (@TV5MONDEINFO) 25 July 2022
The American West has already experienced wildfires of exceptional size and intensity in recent years, with a particularly noticeable lengthening of the fire season, a phenomenon that scientists mainly attribute to climate change.
“Oak Fire” is one of the most dramatic manifestations of the heat wave that hit the United States last weekend. Temperatures above 37°C were still expected in the central US (Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas) at the beginning of the week and even the country’s northwest coast, which is generally very cold and humid, didn’t deliver.
Thus, the Meteorological Services issued a heat alert in Seattle this week and records could be broken there this Tuesday, July 26. The city is so unfamiliar with heating that many homes lack air conditioning, which is a rarity in the United States.
The region experienced a historic heat peak in June 2021, with temperatures reaching 47°C in places in the northwestern United States and neighboring Canada. Authorities estimate that hundreds of people have died from this unprecedented heat wave in the region.