A wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park is threatening 500 homes, has triggered 13,000 evacuation orders and prompted the Madera County sheriff to declare a local emergency.
The fast-moving Junction fire had burned 612 acres and was 35% contained, prompting local school officials to close five campuses Tuesday.
Authorities temporarily closed California 41 leading in and out of Yosemite National Park and sent an additional 2,500 phone calls warning residents that they may have to leave if the fire spreads in their direction.
Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for the following areas:
•Road 620 between California 41 and Lone Oak Lane.
•Jean Road East, Jean Road West, Scott Drive and Taylor Mountain Road.
•All residences and businesses between California 41 North from Road 426 to Road 620.
•Sky Ranch Road and the community of Cedar Valley.
By late Tuesday, California 41 was open, and people were back buying groceries at Vons and rakes at the hardware store.
But for Orville McCollom, 81, the wait was far from over. His Yosemite Pines Drive home was in the burn area off a stretch of road expected to remain closed at least overnight.
He and his wife, Emma, moved to the Sierra foothills 22 years ago from Los Angeles. They wanted a country life. Emma died in October.
McCollom stood at the window of a friend's hilltop house overlooking the area where he lives — or lived, he said.
"I'm within a mile of my house and I still don't know if it's there or not," he said.
Michelle Perira, 18, was in Oakhurst, on the phone with a friend with a telescope.
"They can't tell for sure," she told her grandmother and boyfriend in the hotel room they were sharing with a baby, four dogs and two cats. "But they think they see a roof."
"We're sitting here waiting," she said. "Our house could be there or our house could be gone."
The Junction fire is one of several blazes raging across California's parched forests that have state and federal officials on constant alert for the latest flare-up.
In Kern County, the Way fire had burned through buildings and 3,000 acres after igniting Monday afternoon in Wofford Heights north of California 155. Crews were trying to control the blaze as it crawled through steep terrain and bone-dry vegetation. Evacuation orders had been issued for residents in half a dozen Wofford Height neighborhoods.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed Tuesday to help cover California's costs fighting the Junction and Way fires. The grants can help with up to 75% of the state's costs for fighting the blazes.
In Southern California, the Tecolote fire burning in the Angeles National Forest above Azusa was 60% contained after burning about 275 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The blaze was burning in steep, rugged terrain away from homes, fire officials said. California 39 at East Fork was open only to residents.