Firefighters are continuing to battle against what is now the largest California wildfire this year, one that has forced thousands to evacuate while destroying 41 homes and other buildings near Yosemite National Park, according to officials.
Only 32% of the Oak Fire, had been contained as of Wednesday morning, while nearly 19,000 acres have been burned in the process. The attempts to control the fire, which originated on July 22 in Mariposa County, have been on both the ground and in the air, though there have been substantial challenges.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — also known as Cal Fire — the smoke has been hampering the two dozen aircraft in use, while the steep and rugged terrain of the mountainous areas has made it inaccessible for bulldozers.
Due to those barriers, the over 3,000 personnel engaged were forced to cut lines along its perimeter by hand over the past weekend in order to prevent the fire from hitting neighboring communities in Mariposa, where a state of emergency has been declared.
Speaking to CNN, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie commented on the wildfire’s uniquity, explaining it was demonstrating “unprecedented” behavior. “It’s moving extremely fast and the reaction time to get people out is limited because that fire is moving so fast,” Heggie said.
Helping to increase the fire’s intensity has been the prolonged drought much of the state has been experiencing. Heggie pointed to climate change being at the center of the environmental disaster.
“You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we are now paying the price for that 10-year drought and that climate change.”
According to officials, the smoke has drifted more than 200 miles — 322 kilometers — reaching parts of Lake Taho and the San Francisco Bay area. The smoke could help to cool temperatures that are forecasted to be in the upper 90s for the region, though the air quality remains extremely poor. According to Purple Air, air qualities throughout Mariposa range from 98 to 277.
The fire has also uplifted many from their lives, with 6,000 residents from mountain communities being given evacuation orders. Still, victories are being found in the firefighters’ efforts, with Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Justin Macomb explaining those positives are helping to provide more optimism than in previous days.
“Firefighters are engaged 24 hours a day. They are giving it their best effort. I’m more optimistic today about what’s going to happen than I have been in previous days.”
According to Cal Fire’s incident archive, California has seen 4,679 total wildfire incidents in 2022, with over 53,100 acres burned. The Oak Fire now makes up around 35% of the total acreage burned in the state.
However, while the burnage may seem substantial, The Sacramento Bee noted California is actually off to a slow start this year. Around this same period in 2021, California had over 204,000 total acres burned across 860 more wildfires.
However, due to the recent and still-expected low precipitation and heat waves, wildfires could soon become more persistent again.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.