Wildfire near Yosemite Park causes highway closure, evacuations

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MARIPOSA, Calif. Authorities shut down a major highway Tuesday, keeping travellers far from the west entrance to Yosemite National Park so crews could battle a huge wildfire raging close to thousands of nearby homes.

MARIPOSA, Calif. Authorities shut down a major highway Tuesday, keeping travellers far from the west entrance to Yosemite National Park so crews could battle a huge wildfire raging close to thousands of nearby homes.

Authorities said the blaze in a steep, dry river canyon had destroyed 25 homes and had forced the evacuation of 300 others in the Sierra Nevada foothill towns of Midpines and Coulterville.

An area of more than 119 square kilometres of rugged terrain had burned since a target shooter sparked the wildfire on Friday. The fire was just 15 per cent contained by midday Tuesday.

Flames were about 20 kilometres from Yosemite National Park, which remained open and teeming with visitors.

Firefighters might get some help from a slight drop in temperatures, which were expected to remain above 30 C Tuesday but were accompanied by lower humidity and northwesterly afternoon wind, National Weather Service meteorologist Cindy Bean said.

Flames also threatened homes in Montana, where authorities warned Tuesday that more evacuations were likely.

A 16-kilometre stretch of Californias Highway 140, which leads to Yosemites west entrance, was closed until late Tuesday, fire officials said.

Other entrances to the park remained open, but some Yosemite visitors packed up and left campgrounds and other areas near the park. At the peak of summer, as many as 4,000 visitors a day stream into the park.

Power has been out since Saturday in the park and in the outlying community of El Portal on the parks western boundary. Hotels in the area remained open, operating on generators.

Elsewhere, fire officials at Red Lodge, Mont., said Tuesday that evacuation of an additional 200 homes west of the ski resort town was likely because strong wind threatened to push a wildfire closer to the area.

When we come to tell you to leave, you need to leave, Red Lodge fire Chief Tom Kuntz told the 600 to 700 people who attended a meeting Tuesday morning.

Ninety homes already had been evacuated. Kuntz said officials hoped the nearly 2,500 residents of the town itself would be able to stay in their homes, but he urged them to be prepared to leave.

The blaze had covered just over 23 square kilometres in a canyon 13 kilometres west of Red Lodge and three kilometres west of the Red Lodge Mountain Resort. Kuntz warned that if the fire blew out of the canyon, his crews might not be able to protect the roughly 90 homes that had already been evacuated.



Organizations: National Weather Service, Red Lodge Mountain Resort

Geographic location: Yosemite National Park, MARIPOSA, Calif., Yosemite Midpines Coulterville Montana El Portal

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