Central California wildfire burns out of control, threatens 100 homes

SAN FRANCISCO Tue May 27, 2014 4:04pm EDT

1 of 2. A helicopter drops water on a burning canyon next to homes as firefighters battle the Bernardo Fire, north of San Diego, California May 13, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A wildfire burning west of Yosemite National Park in central California threatened more than 100 homes on Tuesday as it raged out of control in brush left bone dry by severe drought, state fire officials said.

The blaze, which erupted on Monday afternoon, has already charred more than 900 acres and was burning on the southeastern shores of Lake McClure in Mariposa County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 100 homes were ordered evacuated ahead of the flames, which were only 20 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Approximately 500 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, including crews from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and dozens of local fire aids.

Nearly half a dozen air tankers and several helicopters have been brought in to combat the fire aerially, in addition to crews building containment lines and putting out hot spots on the ground, Berlant said.

California’s fire season has been particularly severe this year, with the state’s ongoing drought, one of the worst in history, playing a substantial role in the size and number of wildfires sparking across the state.

Since Jan. 1, Cal Fire has responded to more than 1,500 wildfires, nearly double its five-year average over the same period. The department has hired additional seasonal firefighters across the state and has bolstered fire equipment earlier in the season than normal.

“The fire is still under investigation so we haven’t determined exactly what sparked it, but the drought is affecting how quickly it’s been able to grow,” Berlant said.

“These are conditions we would typically see in the summertime because the grass and the brush are just so dry. We are making progress despite how dry and fast moving this fire is.”

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Orlofsky)

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