Forest fire threatens California's fabled Yosemite

Smoke from the forest fire that has destroyed 50 sq km and left one person dead, rising above the trees near the Yosemite Falls area in Yosemite, California, on July 17, 2018.
Smoke from the forest fire that has destroyed 50 sq km and left one person dead, rising above the trees near the Yosemite Falls area in Yosemite, California, on July 17, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A vast fire in northern California has destroyed 50 sq km, left one person dead and is threatening Yosemite National Park, authorities said Tuesday (July 17).

The Ferguson fire has been raging in the Sierra Nevada forest since last Friday and was only 5 per cent contained as of Tuesday, according to the California firefighting agency, Calfire, which also reported that one firefighter died in the operations.

Some 1,500 firefighters were mobilised to the affected area, but difficult terrain has hampered their activities and access to the area.

The fire has had tremendous fuel in terms of wood from dead trees - 27 million died last year and 62 million the previous one after years of drought - plus leaves and grass dried by intense heat.

Evacuations were ordered in several camps and in other areas Calfire asked people to get ready to flee, given high temperatures forecast for the next few days.

The fire forced the closure of a highway and one of the entrances to Yosemite National Park, famous for its ancient, giant sequoia trees.

Authorities urged tourists to postpone visits to this iconic California tourist spot.

In addition to California, the states of Alaska, Colorado and Idaho were also coping with fires.

The season, however, began with less devastation than last year: 14,000 sq km have burned since the beginning of the year, compared to 17,000 sq km in the same period of 2017, which was particularly devastating in California with unprecedented fires, thousands of burned homes and around 40 dead in Santa Barbara and the Napa wine region.