Explosive wildfire near Yosemite grows, forcing thousands of evacuations: “It’s absolutely terrifying”

a fierce California fire expanded on Monday, burning several thousand acres and forcing evacuations as tens of millions of Americans suffocated scorching heat on the weekend. More than 2,000 firefighters supported by 17 helicopters were mobilized against the Oak Fire, which broke out on Friday near Yosemite National Park, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

But three days after it started, the fire had already consumed more than 16,700 acres and was contained to 10% by early Monday morning, the agency said.

“Extreme drought conditions have led to critical fuel moisture levels,” according to Cal Fire.

Described as “explosive” by authorities, the fire left ash, wrecked vehicles and the twisted remains of property in its wake as emergency crews worked to evacuate residents and protect structures in their path.

It has already damaged or destroyed 15 properties, with thousands of homes and businesses threatened, reports CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti.

Smoke from the fire — which can be seen from the International Space Station — prompted an air quality alert for the San Francisco Bay Area on Monday, reports Vigliotti.

A firefighter works to control a backfire operation carried out to slow the advance of the Oak Fire on a hillside in Mariposa County, California, July 24, 2022.
A firefighter works to control a backfire operation carried out to slow the advance of the Oak Fire on a hillside in Mariposa County, California, July 24, 2022.

David Odisho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 6,000 people were evacuated, said Hector Vasquez, a Cal Fire official, and the Oak Fire is so far the largest in the state.

This year, firefighters in California were dispatched to more than 4,000 wildfires.

“The cycle of fire here, before these 1,500 years droughts we’re in, it was like a big fire every 15, 20 years, now we have several big fires every year,” Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, told Vigliotti. “It’s terrifying, it’s absolutely terrifying.”

Lynda Reynolds-Brown and her husband Aubrey awaited news about the fate of their home from an evacuation center at an elementary school. They fled as the ash fell and the fire descended a hill towards her property.

“It felt like it was above our house and coming towards us very quickly,” Reynolds-Brown told KCRA-TV.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Mariposa County, citing “conditions of extreme danger to the safety of persons and property”.

In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by massive and fast-moving wildfires, caused by years of drought and a hot climate.

Evidence of global warming can be seen in other parts of the country, as 85 million Americans in more than a dozen states were under a heat alert over the weekend.

The crisis prompted former Vice President Al Gore, a tireless climate advocate, to issue stern warnings on Sunday about “inaction” by lawmakers.

Asked if he believes President Biden should declare a climate emergency, which would give him additional political powers, Gore was blunt.

“Mother Nature has already declared it a global emergency,” he told ABC News’ “This Week” talk show.

And “it should get much, much worse and quickly,” he said separately on NBC.

But he also suggested that recent crises, including deaths heat waves in Europe, could serve as a wake-up call to members of Congress who have so far refused to embrace efforts to combat of Climate Change.

“I think these extreme events that are getting worse and worse and more serious are really starting to change their minds,” he said.

The Center and Northeast regions faced the impact of extreme heat, which should ease a little on Monday.

“Scorching heat will continue across the mid-Atlantic and northeast tonight before the upper valley over Canada descends in the region to moderate temperatures tomorrow,” the National Weather Service said Sunday afternoon.

But not all regions are expected to cool: temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher are forecast in the coming days in parts of eastern Kansas and Oklahoma to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

Not even the generally cold Pacific Northwest will escape the long-range heat, with high temperatures “foreseen to rise steadily in the coming days, leading to the possibility of record breaking,” the weather service added.

Cities have been forced to open cooling stations and increase the reach of at-risk communities such as the homeless and those without access to air conditioning.

Several regions of the globe have been hit by extreme heat waves in recent months, such as Western Europe in July and India from March to April, incidents that scientists say are an unmistakable sign of a warmer climate.

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