Growing wildfire outside Yosemite National Park among numerous blazes across West

  • Article by: GOSIA WOZNIACKI , Associated Press
  • Updated: August 21, 2013 - 10:55 PM

FRESNO, Calif. — An out-of-control forest fire threatening about 2,500 structures near Yosemite National Park was one of more than 50 active, large wildfires dotting the western U.S. on Wednesday.

The remote blaze in Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite grew to more than 25 square miles and was only 5 percent contained, threatening homes, hotels and camp buildings.

The fire has led to the voluntary evacuation of the private gated summer community of Pine Mountain Lake, which has a population of 2,800, as well as several organized camps, at least two campgrounds and dozens of other private homes. Two residences and seven outbuildings have been destroyed.

The fire also caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of the gateways into Yosemite on the west side. Park officials said the park remains open to visitors and can be accessed via state Routes 140 and 4.

"This is typically a very busy time for us until Labor Day, so it's definitely affecting business not having the traffic come through to Yosemite," said Britney Sorsdahl, a manager at the Iron Door Saloon and Grill in Groveland, a community of about 600 about five miles from the fire.

The board of supervisors in Tuolumne County held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon and voted for a resolution to ask Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency and free special funds and resources for the firefight.

The resolution said the fire was "directly threatening various communities and businesses" and "beyond our capabilities," according to the Modesto Bee.

The fire was among the nation's top firefighting priorities, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Fifty-one major uncontained wildfires are burning throughout the West, according to the center, including in California, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. More than 19,000 firefighters were fighting the fires.

But the U.S. Forest Service, the nation's top wildfire-fighting agency, said Wednesday that it is running out of money to fight wildfires and is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap. The agency said it had spent $967 million so far this year and was down to $50 million — typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires when the nation is at its top wildfire preparedness level, which went into effect Tuesday.

There have been more than 32,000 fires this year that have burned more than 5,300 square miles.

On Wednesday, the National Interagency Fire Center listed two fires in Montana as the nation's number one priority. They include a wildfire burning west of Missoula that has surpassed 13 square miles, destroyed five homes, closed U.S. Highway 12 and led to multiple evacuations. The Lolo Fire Complex, which was zero percent contained, also destroyed an unknown number of outbuildings and vehicles.

At least 19 other notable fires were burning across the state, leading Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to declare a state of emergency, which allows the use of National Guard resources ranging from personnel to helicopters.

In Oregon, a fire in the Columbia Gorge about 10 miles southwest of The Dalles grew to 13 square miles, forcing evacuations and burning a third home. The fire was 15 percent contained. Strong winds continued to fan the blaze, pushing it into the Mount Hood National Forest.

Firefighters in southwestern Oregon braced for a return of lightning storms that started a series of fires last month that continue to burn in rugged timberlands.

In Idaho, progress was reported in the fight against the nearly 169-square-mile Beaver Creek fire, which forced the evacuation of 1,250 homes in the resort area of Ketchum and Sun Valley. That fire was 47 percent contained, authorities said.

In Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, officials reopened a 7-mile section of road closed briefly by a wildfire. As of Wednesday, the Alum Fire had burned about 12 square miles and was spreading slowly, leading park officials to make preliminary evacuation plans for a community on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

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