Oak Fire Near Yosemite Grows to California’s Largest This Year

After growing explosively to become California’s largest wildfire so far in 2022, a blaze in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada moderated on Sunday, with firefighters able to defend communities a dozen miles from Yosemite National Park.

The Oak fire, which was ignited and spread swiftly on Friday, has burned a total of 15,600 acres and still could threaten 3,300 homes and businesses. As of Sunday night, 10 structures had been destroyed, and more than 3,000 residents had been ordered to evacuate.

Cal Fire, the state’s main firefighting agency, said in a statement Sunday night that firefighters had made “good headway” against the blaze and that protective clearing by fire crews was shielding the small communities of Lushmeadows and Mariposa Pines.

“The fire continued to be active, but yesterday afternoon it did slow and moderate,” Capt. Jon Heggie, a battalion chief at Cal Fire, said by phone on Monday morning. “But the potential for it to grow still exists, and we will continue to fight this fire aggressively.”

The fire closed a highway leading to Yosemite, which is still recovering from the Washburn fire. That blaze started earlier this month and at one point threatened the park’s Mariposa Grove of sequoias, some of the world’s oldest trees. The Washburn fire is now all but extinguished.

As California fell deeper into a second year of drought in the spring, officials warned of a potentially catastrophic 2022 fire season across the state’s desiccated landscape. But so far this year, the state has managed to avoid the type of megafire that it has experienced in years past.

Last year at this time, the state was battling the Dixie fire, which burned nearly a million acres — more than 60 times the area of the Oak fire — and crested the Sierra to burn down the eastern slopes of the mountain range, a relatively rare occurrence.

The Oak fire is by far the largest wildfire in the state so far this year, besting the Washburn fire, which burned 4,900 acres, according to a tally by Cal Fire.

However, July is still early in the state’s traditional fire season, which runs through the summer and well into autumn, when the threat rises of more potentially lethal wind-driven wildfires.

California forests have always burned during the dry months. But a combination of rising temperatures from climate change and an abundance of ignitable vegetation — including tens of millions of trees that were killed during a previous drought a decade ago — have made the state’s forests particularly vulnerable to fire. Sixty percent of the state’s land area is classified by the federal government as being in extreme drought.

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