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Wildfires threaten Yosemite, other western communities

The summer fire season continues to cover parts of the West with smoke as thousands of firefighters battle blazes. A new one forced evacuations near Yosemite National Park.

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    A firefighter walks through trees putting out spot fires just outside of Oakhurst, Calif. One of several wildfires burning across California prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people near Yosemite National Park.
    Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee,/AP
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Autumn may be in the air, but the summer fire season continues to threaten communities and natural resources around the West.

A 300-acre wildfire just outside Yosemite National Park in California, discovered Friday, prompted authorities to order the evacuation of hundreds of about 700 homes and the closure of some roads in the area. By midday Saturday, the fire was 25 percent contained.

Farther north in bone-dry California, the Happy Camp complex of fires west of Yreka, which began nearly four weeks ago with a lightning strike, is reaching “megafire” status (100,000 acres).

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As of Saturday morning, the fire had burned 88,546 acres, or about 138 square miles, according to the US Forest Service. Containment cost has been estimated at $51.5 million and the fire is 25 percent contained.

“The Red Flag Warning has been extended until 11p.m. today due to a combination of strong winds and low relative humidity,” the Forest Service reported. “Minimum relative humidity is predicted to be 11-22 percent today. Gusts up to 15 mph are possible along ridge tops. Strong winds and extremely low relative humidity will likely cause the fire to spread very rapidly.”

Mandatory evaquations remain in effect. A local fairgrounds is providing shelter for residents and large animals. Eighty-four fire crews totaling nearly 3,000 people, plus 16 helicopters, 22 bulldozers, and other equipment, are battling the blaze.

Also in the Klamath National Forest, the July Complex of fires has burned more than 40,000 acres.

Farther north, a brush fire Friday night in Corvallis, Oregon, forced the evacuation of more than 200 homes.

“Record heat and smoke from wildfires will be additional opponents for Michigan State during today's football game against Oregon,” writes meteorologist Mark Torregrossa for MLive.com. “Gametime temperatures will be near Eugene, Oregon's record high of 95 degrees. Also, wildfires are burning east of Eugene. Some of the smoke is expected to make it into the skies over the stadium, thanks to winds from the east.”

For the second straight year, Oregon has tapped into its insurance coverage to help cover the growing cost of firefighting, the Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Oregon, reports

“Acres burned by wildfires this year have already tripled the 10-year average, and scientists expect that to become a trend as long-term droughts intensify as a result of climate change,” the newspaper reports. “To help with ballooning costs, Oregon has a $20 million deductible as part of a unique large wildfire insurance policy that goes back four decades. The state burned through the deductible by the end of July and now has gone through two-thirds of its $25 million policy.”

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reports: “Very dry conditions will continue from California northward through Oregon and Washington today. Terrain-induced winds will be gusty at higher elevations in the Inter-mountain West as well.”

So far this year, according to the interagency fire center, 38,451 wildfires have torched 2,772,014 acres.

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