Tourists, residents flee huge fire near Yosemite
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A Northern California wildfire raging out of control on Friday grew from 99 square miles to more than 165 square miles as it spread inside the border of Yosemite National Park.
The flames have also forced the evacuations of hundreds from homes in communities near the park.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said Friday the blaze was only 2 percent contained.
Berlant said the fire threatens about 4,500 residences.
"Most of the fire activity is pushing to the east right into Yosemite," Berlant said.
Within the park the blaze is burning in a remote area around Lake Eleanor, and is not threatening Yosemite Valley, Bjorn Fredrickson, a fire spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said.
While Yosemite remains open, the wildfire caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that rely on tourism.
"There is no immediate threat to the valley at this time," Fredrickson sad.
Officials also have advised voluntary evacuations of more than a thousand other homes, several organized camps and at least two campgrounds. More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about 5 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 Wilkinson said she and her husband are staying put - for now - many area businesses have closed and people who had vacation 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."
Loh said most of her employees have left town. And the family's Spinning Wheel Ranch, where they rent cabins to tourists, has also been evacuated because it's directly in the line of fire. Two outbuildings have burned at the ranch, Loh said, and she still has no word whether the house and cabins survived.
"We're all just standing on eggshells, waiting," Loh said.
The governor's emergency declaration finding "conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property" frees up funds and firefighting resources and helps Tuolumne County in seeking federal disaster relief.
Yosemite can still be accessed via state Routes 140 and 41 from the west, as well as State Route 120 from the east side.
The Yosemite County Tourism Bureau based in Mariposa has been helping tourists displaced by the fire to find new accommodations in other park-area towns, said director Terry Selk.
Associated Press writers Jason Dearen, Lisa Leff and Andrew Dalton in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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