California: Flames spare historic Gold Rush-era town

2017-07-23 21:49
An air tanker drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Mariposa. (Noah Berger, AP)

An air tanker drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Mariposa. (Noah Berger, AP)

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Los Angles - Crews contending with triple-digit temperatures slowed the spread of an aggressive wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in a rural area of California near Yosemite National Park, officials said on Sunday.

The blaze burning for a week has scorched just over 305km² of dense brush and dead trees in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Many evacuated residents were allowed to return, but flames continue to threaten about 1 500 homes in Mariposa County.

The fire was 40% contained, but officials said it could take crews another two weeks to fully surround it.

"They are still out in front of an uncontrolled fire, but the fire isn't moving at almost 50km/h. The fire is crawling along," fire spokesperson Brandon Vaccaro said on Saturday. Flames spared Mariposa, a historic Gold Rush-era town, but more than 60 nearby homes and about 64 other buildings were destroyed.

Nearly 4 500 firefighters fought the blaze using air tankers and fleets of helicopters and bulldozers.

The fire grew by up to 122km² a day at its peak. But by the weekend, the growth rate was slowed despite dry, blistering weather, Vaccaro said.

The smoke blurred the scenic vistas of Yosemite National Park, about 60km west of the fire. Tourists expecting the grandeur of falls and granite peaks instead saw hazy grey silhouettes.

Some roads remained closed. But Mariposa, with a population of about 2 000, was coming back to life.

Steve Valdez was back at work on Saturday at a hardware store despite losing his home of 17 years to the fire.

"There are people out there who depend upon us to get power, to get water, to get their equipment fixed," he said.

Valdez, 60, and his wife had 20 minutes to grab a few photographs, bills and some family Bibles before they fled the encroaching flames. When they returned, only the home's chimney was still standing. They plan to rebuild.

The fire was one of more than a dozen that have ravaged California in recent weeks.

To the south, officials have finally lifted all remaining evacuations in a stubborn fire burning for more than two weeks in the mountains of Santa Barbara County.

The blaze, which destroyed 16 homes, is 87% and hasn't grown in size for several days.

Read more on:    us  |  wildfires

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