Fire destroys eight homes outside Yosemite

July 27, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
An out-of-control wildfire burning Sunday near an entrance to Yosemite National Park has destroyed eight homes and is threatening thousands more as flames forced authorities to cut power to the park.The Telegraph Fire has charred more than 18,000 acres since Friday as wooded slopes ignited amid hot, dry conditions that have plagued California for months. The fire was completely uncontained Sunday morning.

"There's no fire history in the past 100 hundred years. That's one of the reasons this fire's been able to burn so erratically," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, on Sunday.

The wildfire led officials to order the evacuations of 170 homes under immediate threat. About 2,000 homes faced at least some danger from the fast-spreading flames, according to fire officials. No injuries were reported.

Flames towered as high as 100 feet on Saturday but had scaled back Sunday as temperatures cooled and winds calmed, Berlant said. Though the fire continues to expand, its spread has slowed with the improved weather, he said.

State fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said the blaze, dubbed the Telegraph Fire, was sparked by someone target shooting but would not elaborate.

About 2,000 firefighters were battling the fire and hundreds more were headed to the scene along the Merced River west of Yosemite, one of the nation's most visited national parks.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, located along Highway 140, about 12 miles from the park. The southern edge of the blaze was as little as two miles from Mariposa, a town of about 1,800 residents, Berlant said.

The highway, which leads to one of two entrances on the west side of the park, remained open Sunday morning, according to the California Department of Transportation. But park officials said visitors traveling that route could face delays caused by firefighters transporting equipment along the roadway.

Billowing smoke from the wildfire has cast a noticeable haze over much of the park, including the famed Yosemite Valley, said park spokeswoman Julie Chavez.

To protect firefighters battling flames beneath power lines, electricity was cut to a wide area, including the national park, according to fire officials. Some park buildings were closed because of the power outage, but generators were still providing hotels, stores and other heavily used park facilities with electricity, Chavez said.

The park will likely remain without an outside source of power for several days until crews can repair a transmission line brought down by the fire after power was cut, said James Guidi, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric. Technicians will not be able to fix the power line until authorities determine the area is safe, Guidi said.

Temperatures on Sunday had fallen below 90 degrees after triple-digit temperatures and low humidity hampered firefighting efforts on Saturday.

Much of fire is burning in steep, remote terrain, which along with the hot weather and tinder-dry fuel has made for an extremely dangerous fire to fight, fire officials said.

"Dozers are trying to push dirt as fast as they can to get safety zones for our firefighters that are out there," Guillemin said. "Crews are cutting brush as fast as they can but it's an extremely dangerous situation at this point."

EVACUATION SHELTER:
Mariposa Elementary School

ROAD CLOSURES IN AND AROUND THE MARIPOSA/MIDPINES AREA:
Telegraph Road
Whitlock Road
Cory Pine Road
Sherlock Road
Salamander Road
Colorado Road
Lakeside Road
Davis Road
Rumbling Mine Road
Rancheria Creek Road
Foran Road
Lakeview Road
Pennyroyale Road
French Camp Road
Dogtown Road
Wagner Road

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