July 29, 2008

Fire Near Yosemite Spreading Fast

A fire charring forest land west of Yosemite National Forest and threatening communities in Mariposa County, Calif., continues to spread fast.

The Telegraph fire has scorched 29,600 acres and remains 10 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire is burning with "a rapid rate of spread in multiple directions" in steep, rocky terrain that is challenging firefighters, Cal Fire states.

Erratic fire behavior also is attributed to plentiful fuel provided by vegetation in an area that has not burned in 100 years.

The fire has obscured access to Yosemite National Park, which remains open despite power outages and obscured visibility.

Highway 140, which leads to the park's main entrance, was to be closed until 9 p.m. PDT Tuesday.

Park officials were asking visitors to seek alternate routes to reach the famous landmark, including Highway 120, Highway 41 and the Tiago Pass.

Several park facilities are operating on reduced power. Park officials say they hope PG&E crews can restore power by this afternoon using a huge generator that will be connected outside the park, said Kenny Karst, spokesman for Yosemite's concessionaire.

Some facilities are half lit, and some of the hotels and accommodations in the park are without hot water and, at times, electricity.

Park officials, however, are stressing that the park remains open.

But tourist industry officials say they are concerned potential park visitors will avoid Yosemite as the fire's worldwide notoriety grows.

Smoke from the fire has reduced visibility of some of the park's most popular features, including Half Dome and El Capitan.

The haze isn't as severe on the eastern flanks of the park, which remains largely unaffected by the fire.

The Telegraph fire has destroyed 25 homes and 27 outbuildings and is threatening 4,000 more homes in the communities of Midpines, Briceburg, Mariposa, Greeley Hill, Coulterville, Bear Valley and Mount Bullion Camp, according to Cal Fire.

Evacuations have been ordered along roads between Mariposa, Midpines and Greeley Hill.

As of Tuesday, 300 people have been evacuated from their homes, and another 1,000 are on evacuation notice, fire officials said.

The fire, sparked by a target shooter on private property, has cost $9 million to fight thus far, Cal Fire states.

More than 3,400 fire personnel are assigned to the blaze, along with about 400 fire engines, 71 hand crews, 59 dozers, 30 water tenders and 13 helicopters.

The Telegraph fire is the latest in a long line of blazes that have plagued the state over the past two months. A thunderstorm strike sparked more than 2,000 fires on June 20.

The fires scorched more than 1 million acres statewide and destroyed 170 homes, one commercial building and 166 outbuildings, according to Cal Fire.

More than 98 percent of the fires have been contained, but 27 fires continue to burn.


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