California Oak Fire destroys at least 55 structures as it burns more than 17,000 acres near Yosemite National Park

Crews made progress in their efforts to bring the blaze under control on Monday, slowing the blaze’s expansion after the blaze exploded over the weekend, although it was still only 16% contained , said the national fire management agency Cal Fire. More than 2,400 structures are still under threat, according to the agency.

“It was a successful day for the planes and firefighters resulting in minimal fire growth,” Cal Fire said Monday evening, adding, “Crews continue to build control lines and extinguish fires. hot spots along existing lines”.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters are tackling the blaze, deploying air and ground efforts, including two dozen helicopters, 302 fire trucks and 82 bulldozers, according to Cal Fire’s Monday night update.

But difficult terrain and abundant dry vegetation fueling the fire have complicated efforts to curb its growth, Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Keith Wade told CNN on Monday.

“The footprint here, the area of ​​fuels available to burn when the fire starts, and the topography available – the canyons, the drainages – the wind flowing through those areas, can make the fire behave erratically and it can explode. .. the ferocity of this fire can be intense at times,” Wade said.

There have been 23 wildfires in California so far this month, according to Cal Fire, but only three have exceeded 500 acres. No one came close to the massive destruction of the Oak Fire, in part because of extremely dry conditions in the area, Wade said.

“I think the real difference firefighters feel on this one is how dry everything is, it has certainly been (drier) over the years,” he said. “We’ve noticed there seems to be less precipitation, less humidity and the available fuel load is definitely there.”

The rapid growth of the blaze has also made evacuation efforts more difficult, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie told CNN on Monday, noting that authorities and law enforcement were doing their best. to notify residents when they were due to leave.

“The reality is it’s moving so fast, it doesn’t give people a lot of time and sometimes they’re going to have to evacuate with the shirts on their backs,” Heggie said.

Incremental progress by fire crews has allowed officials to reduce evacuation orders in some areas to fire advisories, Cal Fire said.

At least 3,000 people were forced to flee their homes over the weekend, according to a Saturday press release from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office. An evacuation shelter has been set up at Mariposa Elementary School for displaced residents.
Mariposa County has been under a state of emergency since Saturday, when Newsom announced the proclamation.
Southern California fire officials expect this summer to bring a particularly difficult fire season due to increased wildfire frequency and dry, hot conditions across much of the state.
Firefighters are working to contain hot spots from the Oak Fire, which began burning on Friday.

Heggie attributed the “speed and intensity” of the Oak Fire to the state’s prolonged drought and human-caused climate change.

“What I can tell you is that this is a direct result of what climate change is,” he said. “You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we’re now paying the price for that 10-year drought and climate change.”

California is among the western states that have suffered from a prolonged mega-drought that has been greatly exacerbated by the climate crisis.

“That dead fuel that’s resulted from that climate change and that drought is what’s driving them, what we now call ‘mega fires,'” Heggie said.

The western United States isn’t alone in facing extreme fire conditions. Wildfires around the world have intensified and become more common, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. The report’s analysis found that the number of extreme wildfire events will increase by 30% by 2050.

The report suggests it’s time we “learn to live with fire”, urging authorities and policy makers to work with local communities to use indigenous knowledge and invest in planning and prevention efforts.

CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Taylor Romine, Stella Chan, Sara Smart and Rachel Ramirez contributed to this report.

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