California. A heat wave was gaining momentum in California on Monday, but weak winds helped firefighters work on a wildfire threatening a giant sequoia grove and a small community in Yosemite National Park.
The Washburn Fire on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada had scorched about 9.3 square kilometers as of Monday morning, an increase of about 121 hectares overnight, according to an incident update.
The fire threatened more than 500 mature redwood trees in the park’s Mariposa Grove and the nearby community of Wawona, which has been evacuated.
The area in southern Yosemite was closed to visitors, but the rest of the national park remains open.
Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley have been protected land since President Abraham Lincoln signed a law to that effect in 1864.
A sprinkler system has been installed within the grove to maintain humidity, and there have been no reports of severe damage to any named trees, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
“Fortunately, the Mariposa Grove has a long history of prescribed burning, and studies have shown that these initiatives reduce the impacts of high-severity unwanted fires,” the National Park Service explained in a statement.
Authorities issued a heat advisory for the Central Valley that stretches below the Sierra, while in the area of the fire a high temperature of 31 degrees Celsius was forecast for the town of Wawona, where hundreds of tourists and residents were forced to leave last Friday.
“Fortunately there have been no erratic winds that have affected fire behavior,” said Marc Peebles, fire information officer. “We have high pressure above the fire, which is causing temperatures to rise. However, we do have a decent amount of moisture at night which moderates fire behavior and allows our night shift firefighters to do a good job.”
Officially, the fire has not been contained, but Peebles said a certain percentage of containment is expected to be announced later after it is confirmed.