Thousands Allowed to Return Home, As Crews Make Steady Gains Against Oak Fire Near Yosemite

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Three fightfighters put out hotspots on a hill in the woods, with the sun behind them.
Firefighters put out hot spots from the Oak Fire along Darrah Road near the town of Mariposa on July 26, 2022. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Updated 10:30 a.m. Wednesday

Firefighters have significantly slowed the spread of a raging wildfire near Yosemite National Park, allowing officials to lift some evacuation orders for residents of remote mountain communities.

By Wednesday morning, the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, the state's largest wildfire so far this year, had churned through nearly 19,000 acres of tinder-dry trees and brush, as an army of more than 3,100 firefighters working around the clock made steady gains, with 32% of the blaze now contained, Cal Fire said.

Around 3,800 people were allowed to return to their homes starting Tuesday, with another 2,200 residents still under evacuation orders, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Chris Garcia.

At least 74 houses and other structures have been destroyed.

"Firefighters worked overnight to increase containment lines around the fire perimeter," a Wednesday morning Cal Fire status report said. "Crews continue work around communities, patrolling for hot spots, providing structure defense, and building of direct fire line in very steep and rugged terrain. Damage inspection continues throughout the fire’s perimeter."

Officials on Tuesday night reopened Highway 140, one of the main routes leading into Yosemite National Park, the report said.

Ground crews with air support got a break from increased humidity and lower temperatures earlier this week as monsoonal moisture moved through the Sierra Nevada foothills.

How to Prepare for Fire Season

"They're definitely making good progress," Garcia said of firefighters on the ground, who are working in steep, rugged terrain.

Officials were still investigating the cause of the fire that sparked last Friday southwest of the park, near the town of Midpines, sending plumes of heavy smoke drifting more than 200 miles, reaching Lake Tahoe, parts of Nevada and the Bay Area.

The blaze exploded in size on Saturday, amid the worst drought in decades.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Justin Macomb said earlier this week that from the start, the Oak Fire has behaved in unpredictable ways.

"The fire quickly outflanked us. We couldn't even attack it with the resources we had on hand," Macomb said, noting that it spread to areas he didn't anticipate. "In my career I haven't seen fire behave like that."

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Mariposa County, as the blaze exploded. Pacific Gas and Electric on Sunday said it had shut off power to some 3,100 homes and businesses in the area, with no indication of when it would be restored.

California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.

The Oak Fire was sparked as firefighters continued to make progress against an earlier, nearby blaze, the Washburn Fire, that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. The 4,800-acre fire was more than 90% contained after burning for over two weeks and moving into the Sierra National Forest.

The story includes reporting from The Associated Press.