California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in three Northern California counties where wildfires have burned thousands of acres, destroyed structures, threatened groves of giant sequoias and limited access to Yosemite National Park.
The declaration will boost support for Madera, Mariposa and Tulare counties by making state services, personnel and equipment available in firefighting and recovery efforts.
There are more than 20 active wildfires in the state, including the Railroad, Pier, Mission and Peak fires. Those four fires triggered the emergency declaration.
This is the second time this week the governor has taken such action. On Sunday, he declared a state of emergency for the La Tuna fire that has burned more than 7,000 acres in Los Angeles County and is 90% contained. The fire, which forced the evacuations of parts of several surrounding communities, including Glendale and Burbank, is one of the largest fires in recent history in the city of Los Angeles.
The first two fires to break out in Northern California were the Railroad and Pier fires on Aug. 29 in Madera and Tulare counties, respectively, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Railroad fire ignited near the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, just north of Oakhurst. It destroyed 17 structures, including five homes, five historic buildings and several outbuildings such as sheds and barns. It also restricted access to Yosemite National Park, according to Raj Singh, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
The fire forced several campgrounds, lodges and mountain communities to be evacuated, but cooler temperatures and higher levels of humidity in the last two days have helped firefighters increase containment of the wildfire. The blaze has threatened groves of more than 100 mature giant sequoias in Nelder Grove.
On Thursday night, humidity was at 80%, which slowed the fire, Singh said.
"Previously, the humidity was at 30%, and that made the fire as active at night as it was during the day," Singh said.
At 12,141 acres, the blaze is 50% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
As the fire continues to burn eastward, fire officials say they will begin to let residents back into their homes, beginning with Fish Camp and Tenaya Lodge on Friday afternoon. Sky Ranch residents will be allowed in at 5 p.m. the same day. Sugar Pine residents will be allowed back at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Additionally, Highway 41, which provides access into Yosemite National Park, will reopen at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Pier fire in Tulare County, which broke out in the Tule River Canyon, just north of Springville, has burned about 25,000 acres and is 35% contained.
The Pier fire had forced officials to issue mandatory evacuations for several areas, including Sequoia Crest, Mountain Aire and Rogers Camp. The fire also forced the closure of Highway 190, east of Springville at Upper Rio Vista Road, and north of Ponderosa at Forest Road.
Fire officials say a small hunting cabin was destroyed.
The Mission fire broke out Sunday in Mariposa County. The fire has burned more than 1,000 acres and is 50% contained. At least four structures were destroyed in that blaze.
Mandatory evacuations that had been placed on some communities were lifted Friday morning, but access to non-residents will be restricted.
The Peak fire, which also broke out in Mariposa County on Sunday, has burned 680 acres and is 95% contained. At least two structures were destroyed in the fire, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials.
The cause of all four fires remains under investigation.