The blaze, which had 0% containment Saturday evening, began Friday in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the small community of Midpines, about 9 miles by road northeast of the county seat, the town of Mariposa, state firefighters said. .
Flames tore through trees and sent thick smoke into the sky on Friday, and in at least one rural area scorched near homes and parked vehicles, video from CNN affiliates KFSN and KGO showed.
“(Authorities) came … and told us everyone had to leave,” Wes Detamore, a resident of the Mariposa Pines area, told KFSN on Friday.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County after the fire forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate their homes, according to a news release from his office. Activating the emergency state provides additional resources to help respond to the fire.
Electric service in the area shut down around 4 p.m. local time on Friday, “and the fire is coming our way faster and faster,” Detamore said.
The blaze destroyed at least 10 structures and damaged five others, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said Saturday. The fire threatens another 2,000 structures, Cal Fire said.
It had burned 6,555 acres by Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire. Fire activity was extreme and emergency personnel were working to evacuate people and protect buildings, the department said.
Eleven fire crews with more than 400 personnel, along with 45 fire trucks and four helicopters, were assigned to battle the blazes, Cal Fire said.
Evacuations have been ordered for parts of Mariposa County south and east of the blaze, an online map shows. Evacuation areas did not include the town of Mariposa.
A Red Cross evacuation center has been established at an elementary school in Mariposa, Cal Fire said.
The blaze comes as much of the United States experienced an extreme heat wave this week, with parts of California recording triple-digit temperatures.
The wildfires that have scorched the western United States in recent years have become more frequent due to worsening drought conditions fueled by climate change. In California alone, more than 2.5 million acres were burned in nearly 9,000 fires last year, according to Cal Fire.
The couple left with “just the clothes on their backs”
Nick Smith told CNN his parents’ house burned down as a result of the fire. His parents, Jane and Wes Smith, lived in their Mariposa home for 37 years, he said.
“It’s quite sad to see the house I grew up in and grew up in,” he said. “It hits hard.”
Smith told CNN his father was a Mariposa sheriff and was working on the fire when his mother, Jane, had to evacuate. She had time to load their horses and get out of the area, according to Smith.
“They only had the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet,” he added.
In the meantime, the couple is staying with friends and family. Smith created a verified GoFundMe to support her parents and help them through their loss.
“They have lived in their home for over 37 years and have now lost everything,” Smith wrote on GoFundMe. “37 years of memories, generations of family treasures and countless other sentimental things. Although material, it is devastating to literally lose it all in the blink of an eye without notice.”
The fire is a few dozen miles southwest of Yosemite National Park’s southern boundaries, though the park is closer when measured by a straight line.
The Oak Fire is the largest of California’s currently active wildfires, which were at least six as of Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire.
The second largest, the Washburn Fire, burned in and near southern Yosemite National Park for more than two weeks. It had burned more than 4,850 acres and was 79% contained by Saturday morning, according to InciWeb, a US fire information center.
CNN’s TIna Burnside contributed to this report.