A midsummer fire in California expands to nearly 12,000 acres and threatens homes

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A midsummer fire in California expands to nearly 12,000 acres and threatens homes

At this rate, the Oak Fire, 30 miles from Yosemite, could become a megafire with six-figure acreage, a Calfire spokesman says. The biggest factor? Luck.

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July 23, 2022, 10:48 PM MST

By Dennis Romero

California’s Oak Fire, which started Friday as a 60-acre blaze in remote mountains and quickly became a social media shocker, by Saturday night reached nearly 12,000 acres, had destroyed 10 structures, damaged five others, and threatened nearly 2,700 other buildings in the area.

Its spectacular imagery of raging flames and a roiling smoke cloud were a symptom of a wildfire in a growth spurt, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson Hector Vasquez.

Late Saturday, the fire was zero percent contained, fire officials reported.

On Friday the fire produced a pyrocumulus column of smoke that could be seen from Reno, Nevada, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On Saturday, NASA released satellite footage that shows the blaze’s smoke plume could be seen from the International Space Station.

The Twitter account for the county’s interactive map, which includes areas covered by evacuation orders, proclaimed, “This went from bad to worse.”

The National Interagency Coordination Center for wildfire response on Saturday said the Oak Fire was a product of “extreme fire behavior with running, long range spotting and single tree torching.”

Vasquez said the fire’s rapid growth shows potential to become one of the state’s megafires with six-figure acreage, absent so far this summer despite a third consecutive year of drought, a warmer-than-normal spring, and blazing heat that started before the equinox, the meteorological start of the season.

Firefighters hope for good luck that would nix at least one of the factors feeding the Oak Fire — dry fuel, hot temps, and sufficient winds. So far, conditions are ideal, including brittle dead trees and branches felled by a bark beetle infection and a weather forecast that offers little respite.

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“We have the wind, steep terrain, and the dry conditions,” Vasquez said.

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The National Weather Service forecasts high temperatures in the mid-90s for the next seven days, with low humidity prevailing and calm winds blowing.

One thing firefighters can control is the human response.

Calfire and its federal and local partners have dedicated more than 400 personnel to the Oak Fire. They’ll contend with its move north into the Sierra National Forest and its tendency to grow through spot fires thriving on the dry, beetle-damaged fuel.

Yosemite 

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