Calif. Wildfire Forces Evacuations West of Yosemite National Park

July 28, 2008

A fast-spreading fire burning near an entrance to Yosemite National Park near Midpines, Calif., forced the evacuations of 170 homes on Sunday and caused officials to cut power to the park.

The fire grew from about 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers) to 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) on Saturday, and was threatening about 2,000 homes, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 900 firefighters battled the blaze that burned on both sides of a steep, rugged canyon along the Merced River.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, located along Highway 140, the thoroughfare that leads to the west entrance of Yosemite National Park.

State fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said the cause of the fire, dubbed the Telegraph Fire, “is definitely target shooting,” but would not elaborate.

Fire crews on Saturday were being flown into the hard-to-reach area. Crews had to hike several hours to get to the fire because smoke prohibited aircraft from flying in the area.

The National Weather Service forecast sunny weather Sunday with temperatures in the high 90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius).

On Saturday, firefighting efforts were hampered by temperatures over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) and low humidity. The weather, coupled with a dry wilderness area, has made fighting the blaze very hazardous.

Bulldozers “are trying to push dirt as fast as they can to get safety zones for our firefighters that are out there,” Guillemin said. “Crews are cutting brush as fast as they can but it’s an extremely dangerous situation at this point.”

The California National Guard planned to send two Blackhawk helicopters, Capt. Al Bosco said.

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