Fire destroys 12 homes near Yosemite National Park |

Fire destroys 12 homes near Yosemite National Park

MARIPOSA — Some visitors packed their bags and left campgrounds and other areas near Yosemite National Park on Monday as a wildfire burned out of control outside the famed wilderness area.

The blaze has charred over 42 square miles and destroyed 12 homes on its march through steep, dry terrain. The fire has forced the evacuation of about 300 homes in the nearby towns of Midpines and Coulterville and is threatening about 2,000 others.

“This is some of the most difficult territory you can find in California for fighting fires,” said Mikel Martin, chief of the Madera-Mariposa Unit. “That country is so steep you could almost say it’s straight up and straight down.”

The fire was 10 percent contained Monday as it burned about 12 miles west of Yosemite National Park, which remained open.

Still, some visitors chose to cut short their vacations because of the fire and the smoky haze that accompanied it.

“You would like to be relaxed on your holiday,” said Trees Duipmans, visiting from Holland with her three teenage children. “If you’re looking for tension you visit New York City. This here is a whole other kind of tension.”

Duipmans and her three children, ages 14 to 18, arrived at a campground outside Yosemite on Sunday afternoon, when smoke had already turned the sun a deep glowing red. They camped overnight but decided to leave Monday.

“There was ash falling on our tent. We think we will go to the beach,” she said.

Highway 140, which leads to one entrance of the park, was to be closed until about 5 p.m. so that tankers can drop fire retardant on the road, said Kari Cobb, a spokeswoman for Yosemite National Park. Other entrances to the park were still open along Highway 120 at Big Oak Flat, Highway 123 over Tioga Pass and Highway 41 through Oakhurst.

“It’s definitely smoky and you can’t see much,” Cobb said. “If you have any respiratory problems we are saying avoid strenuous activity.”

A manager at the Yosemite Bug, a hostel in Midpines popular with European backpackers, said most guests had left over the weekend. But a few brave travelers stayed on Monday to try to spot Yosemite Valley’s celebrated granite peaks through the smoke.

“Some of them just don’t care, they just want to see the beauties of Yosemite,” said manager Carrie Kidwell. “We had guests in here this morning going to the park, and I advised them to take their things with them because we don’t know which way the wind’s going to shift between now and when they get back.”

At the peak of summer, as many as 4,000 visitors a day stream into the park. Officials didn’t expect the fire would keep many away.

“People are out there hiking, the campgrounds are full, everyone is taking the smoke in stride,” said Scott Gediman, a park ranger.

Power has been out since Saturday in the park and in the outlying community of El Portal on the park’s western boundary. Hotels in the area are open and running on generators.

California has been dogged by wildfire since June, and hot, dry conditions have turned flare-ups into prolonged fire fights. While many earlier blazes were ignited by a massive lightning storm, the fire outside Yosemite was sparked by a target shooter.

High temperatures are expected to remain in the low- to mid-90s, with low humidity and afternoon wind, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Gudgel said Monday.

“It’ll be a challenging fire for them to fight,” Gudgel said.

There are currently 3,000 firefighters on the scene, some from as far away as Greece.

Outside the town of Midpines, Tony Romero ignored mandatory evacuation orders together with his brother John.

“I’m fighting just to save my own stuff,” Romero said by phone. He stayed up late into the night cutting tractor lines in the dirt around his house, creating a natural fire barrier. “Nothing’s really flared up in my yard or around my house so far, but we could hear the fire crews around all night.”

For others, the damage was already done.

“Everyone’s taken it really bad,” Phillip Mitchell said of the loss of his uncle’s double wide mobile home, which family members identified as one of the 12 destroyed in the fire. “I’m grateful though for the lives that have been saved.”

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