Facing the Oak Fire, the firefighters are making rapid progress

Published on : 27/07/2022 – 07:56Modified : 27/07/2022 – 13:08

Five days now that the Oak Fire has been burning near Yosemite Park in California. 7,500 hectares have already been ravaged, thousands of people forced to evacuate and at least 25 houses destroyed by the flames. It is the biggest fire of the season, which promises to be still complicated for the firefighters even if they have made progress in recent hours.

With our correspondent in Los Angeles, Loic Pialat

The enormous resources deployed are beginning to yield results. The Oak Fire – the “fire of the oak” in French – started Friday afternoon July 22 and spread extremely quickly during the first hours. But the number of firefighters has increased from 500 to 3,000. Some 300 fire engines are available as well as 80 bulldozers and around twenty helicopters. More than 1,300 tons of water were dropped on the flames.

It’s the biggest fire of the year, but it’s also the only major fire at the moment, which allows resources to be concentrated in one place. The fire is more than 25% contained. Another reason for hope for firefighters, the direction of the fire which seems to be advancing towards a mountainous, sparsely populated area. Less threat to residents therefore.

► To read also: Oak Fire continues to spread near Yosemite Park, California

Vegetation quick to ignite

California is known to have been dealing with drought for several years and therefore has a connection to this fire, firefighters say. The temperatures are high, the humidity very low, the winds rather weak for the moment. But indeed, the vegetation is very dry and quick to catch fire.

A study estimates that the period crossed by California since the year 2000 is the driest of the last 1200 years. So while authorities hope to have the Oak Fire under control by the end of the week, they also know that other, possibly even more destructive, fires are likely to occur in the coming weeks.

We have seen similar fires before, 4 years ago for example, the Ferguson fire. These are historical fires. The speed at which fire spreads can vary. When developing on a downhill slope, it can go very slowly. But when he climbs a hill, he moves at the speed of the train. If there is wind of course it will spread quickly, especially in fields of tall grass. Here we have this kind of grass mixed with bushes and trees, so we have all types of terrain. For now, the winds are light, around 3 km/h in the morning and between 11 and 16 km/h in the afternoon. The fire advances at about half the speed of the wind.

Dominic Collido, spokesperson for the firefighters mobilized on site

A tanker attempts to stop the progress of the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, Calif., Sunday, July 24, 2022. AP – Noah Berger

Will there be more fires in the years to come?

Oak Fire may be the start of a long series of fires, with increasingly intense drought in the southwestern United States. Dominic Collido, joined by Anaelle Laruenotes it: he has never seen such large fires as in the last five years.

« It’s going to depend on weather and rain, but also if we have dry thunderstorms causing fires, or arson fires, it’s hard to say. Historically there’s always been fires somewhere every year in California but we’ve gone into a pretty severe drought so fires have been constant for the past few years especially the last five years all of our attention is on those fires, the largest fires in state history have occurred in the past five years. »

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