Fast-growing wildfire in Yosemite National Park forces hundreds in Wawona to evacuate

In this image provided by the National Park Service, a firefighter walks near the Mariposa Grove as the Washburn Fire burns in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Thursday, July 7, 2022. A portion of Yosemite National Park has been closed as a wildfire rages near a grove of California's famous giant sequoia trees, officials said. (National Park Service via AP)
A firefighter walks near the Mariposa Grove as the Washburn fire burns in Yosemite National Park on Thursday. The Mariposa Grove is Yosemite's largest grove of giant sequoias. (National Park Service)

A wildfire burning in Yosemite National Park grew rapidly Friday, prompting evacuation orders and threatening the park's largest grove of giant sequoias.

The community of Wawona, which is surrounded by the park, was ordered to evacuate around 4 p.m. along with the Wawona Hotel and campground, said Scott Gediman, a park spokesperson. Authorities estimate 700 people would have to relocate because of the Washburn fire, which had grown to 466 acres.

"The health and safety of park visitors and employees are the paramount concern," Gediman said.

Those in Wawona and at the campground were ordered to leave immediately and take Wawona Road, also known as Highway 41, north toward Yosemite Valley, according to authorities. Southbound traffic was closed at the Wawona Golf Course.

The blaze was 0% contained, Gediman said. More than 200 personnel were assigned to the fire, according to a Friday night incident report.

"Our firefighters are working safely," Gediman said. "We're getting more resources, more tankers and helicopters. This is a 100% suppression effort."

The fire ignited Thursday afternoon before growing to 60 to 70 acres by the end of the day. It grew quickly Friday as firefighters battling in hot and dry conditions tried to control the flames threatening hundreds of giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, a popular destination in the park.

The grove, in the southern section of the park, is home to more than 500 mature giant sequoias.

Last year, a pair of massive wildfires that tore through a combined 185,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada charred at least 26 groves of giant sequoias. The trees have adapted to withstand flames, but experts say today's drought-stressed giant sequoias are increasingly vulnerable to extreme wildfires stoked by climate change and a buildup of bone-dry vegetation.

The Mariposa Grove was closed Thursday as the Washburn fire spread in Yosemite; all other areas of the park aside from Wawona are open, though park officials warned visitors to expect smoky conditions.

Smoke from the Yosemite blaze and the Electra fire in Northern California's Amador and Calaveras counties was forecast to hit parts of the foothills and the Sierra, including Lake Tahoe, according to the National Weather Service's Sacramento office.

Temperatures are expected to rise in the next few days, but winds were fairly light and are not forecast to get much stronger, Gediman said.

The American Red Cross of Central California has opened a shelter at New Life Christian Fellowship, 5089 Cole Road in Mariposa, for evacuees affected by the fire.

"Volunteers are on-site to provide safe shelter, food, water and additional resources," the organization tweeted at 5 p.m.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.