Fire rages in Yosemite Park

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2008

The Associated Press

MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) — Hot weather hampered efforts to contain a fast-moving wildfire near an entrance to Yosemite National Park that had already destroyed 12 homes and forced the evacuation of nearly 200 others.

The blaze had charred more than 26,000 acres — over a square mile — since Friday as wooded slopes ignited amid the hot, dry conditions that have plagued California for months. Besides the homes destroyed, the fire had also engulfed 27 other buildings.

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Officials ordered the evacuations of 195 homes under immediate threat, but some residents defied orders and stayed to protect their property. About 2,000 homes faced at least some danger from the fast-spreading flames, said Wayne Barringer, a state fire spokesman on the scene.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, about 12 miles from the park. The southern edge of the blaze was as little as two miles from Mariposa, a town of about 1,800 residents.

‘‘My house is about 100 yards from some fire right now and that’s freaking me out,’’ said John Romero, who answered his phone Sunday evening during a break from digging trenches and clearing brush with a little tractor.

Romero said his brother, Tony Romero, has an adjoining property with a 50,000-gallon swimming pool. The brothers planned to pump water from the pool to defend their homes if the fire advanced that far.

He said the air was thick with smoke, making his work difficult. ‘‘I feel like I’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes, and I don’t smoke,’’ Romero said.

The fire was 10 percent contained Sunday evening.

State fire officials said the blaze was ignited by sparks created from firearms taking target practice, but would not elaborate.

Mary Ann Porter, a nursing assistant who lives in Midpines, left her goats, chickens and dog when she evacuated Sunday morning. Porter, who lives with her daughter and grandchildren, said the family took pictures and some computer hard drives.

‘‘One of the blessings of living up here is that you adapt and learn to accept things,’’ she said, sitting a table reading a newspaper in the evacuation center in Mariposa.

To protect firefighters battling flames beneath power lines, electricity was cut to a wide area fire officials said.

James Guidi Jr., a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric, said the transmission line that fed power to Yosemite was destroyed in the fire on Saturday, and that firefighters cut the area’s power grid for safety reasons.

Mobile generators were being set up to restore power to the whole park and about 500 customers nearby by Monday evening. In all, about 1,000 customers in the area had lost power, Guidi said.

Farther north, in Siskiyou County, authorities reported the death of a second firefighter in as many days.

A firefighter believed to be a fire chief from Washington state died Saturday while scouting a blaze in Northern California, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said Sunday.

The 250-acre fire had prevented crews from recovering the body to make a positive identification, but several other firefighters identified the victim as Daniel Packer, 49, of Lake Tapps, Wash.

Packer was the immediate past president of the Washington Fire Chiefs Association, according to Brian Schaeffer, assistant fire chief in Spokane, Wash.

On Friday, Washington state firefighter Andrew Palmer, 18, died after he was hit by a falling tree while battling another Northern California wildfire.

In Southern California, about 4,000 visitors were evacuated Sunday from the Los Angeles zoo as a fast-moving brush fire burned nearby in Griffith Park.

Flames came within about 1,000 feet of a California condor enclosure in the park, forcing the relocation of the condors and two vultures, zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said.

The fire had burned about 25 acres and was contained in under three hours, and no injuries were reported.

In Montana, heavy airtankers dropped fire retardant along a ridge near the Red Lodge Mountain Ski Resort on Sunday to protect the resort from an advancing wildfire.

Resort employees stood by, ready to operate the resort’s snowmaking equipment to send cascades of water against the fast-moving Cascade fire, said Forest Service fire information officer Jeff Gildehaus.

Fire officials ordered more evacuations Sunday as the fire west of Red Lodge continued to move steadily to the east, sending out smoke, ash and embers.

The fire on the Custer National Forest had grown to more than 2,500 acres by Sunday evening and burned five summer homes and an outhouse in the historic Camp Senia area, Gildehaus said. He said an initial mapping error overestimated the number of acres burned at 3,580.