Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fire roars toward 2,000 homes near Yosemite

MIDPINES, Calif. - A fast-spreading fire burning near an entrance to Yosemite National Park forced the evacuations of 170 homes and caused officials to cut power to the park.

The fire grew from about 1 1/2 square miles to 25 square miles on Saturday, and was threatening about 2,000 homes, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Officials told NBC News early Sunday that 18,000 acres had burned and that authorities were struggling to determine the extent of structural damage in the area because the fire was "out of control".

About 900 firefighters battled the blaze that burned on both sides of a steep, rugged canyon along the Merced River.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, located along Highway 140, the thoroughfare that leads to the west entrance of Yosemite National Park.

Target shooting blamed
State fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said the cause of the fire, dubbed the Telegraph Fire, "is definitely target shooting," but would not elaborate.

Fire crews on Saturday were being flown into the hard-to-reach area. Crews had to hike several hours to get to the fire because smoke prohibited aircraft from flying in the area.

Temperatures over 100 degrees and low humidity hampered firefighting efforts. The weather, coupled with a dry wilderness area, has made for an extremely dangerous fire to fight.

"Dozers are trying to push dirt as fast as they can to get safety zones for our firefighters that are out there," Guillemin said. "Crews are cutting brush as fast as they can but it's an extremely dangerous situation at this point."

The California National Guard planned to send two Blackhawk helicopters, Capt. Al Bosco said.