Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Tourists flee Yosemite wildfire

A fire burns near Yosemite National Park in California (AP/US Forest Service)
A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park is threatening about 2,500 homes, hotels and camp buildings (AP/US Forest Service)

A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park has more than tripled in size, prompting officers to warn residents in a gated community to evacuate their homes.

It is one of several blazes in or near national parks in the US and has forced scores of tourists to leave the area during peak season.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the huge fire, which is among 50 major uncontained blazes burning across the western US.

As flames approached an area of Pine Mountain Lake with 268 homes on Thursday, deputies went door-to-door to deliver the news and to urge people to leave, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department Sgt Scott Johnson said. The evacuations are not mandatory, although he stressed that the fire, smoke and the potential for power cuts pose imminent threats.

Fire officials said the blaze, which started on Saturday, had grown to more than 84 square miles and was only 2% contained on Thursday, down from 5% a day earlier. Two homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed.

While the park remains open, the blaze has caused the closure of a four-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that live from park-based tourism. Officials also have advised voluntary evacuations of more than a thousand other homes, several organised camps and at least two camping sites.

More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about five miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.

"Usually during summer, it's swamped with tourists, you can't find parking downtown," said Christina Wilkinson, who runs Groveland's social media pages and lives in Pine Mountain Lake. "Now, the streets are empty. All we see is firefighters, emergency personnel and fire trucks."

Though she said she and her husband are staying put - for now - many area businesses have closed and people who had holiday rental homes are cancelling plans, local business owners said.

"This fire, it's killing our financial picture," said Corinna Loh, whose family owns the still-open Iron Door Saloon and Grill in Groveland. "This is our high season and it has gone to nothing, we're really hurting."

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