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Yosemite Closed as Fire Destroys Park Buildings : Disaster: Visitors urged to stay away from popular vacationland. Tens of thousands of acres blackened as lightning-sparked blazes burn out of control across the state.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Lighting-sparked wildfires burned out of control Thursday across thousands of acres of California, destroying two dozen structures inside Yosemite National Park and closing the popular facility to thousands of visitors.

“I would strongly discourage anyone from trying to go in there,” said Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service in San Francisco. “Let us put out the fires first.”

More than two dozen fires burned inside the park. Two of the largest blazes had forced closure of three highways--California 120, 140 and 41--leading into the 750,000-acre vacationland.

The 7,000-acre “A” Rock Fire forced evacuation of Foresta, inside the park near a western entrance, Thursday night and then swept into the small community, destroying summer dwellings, some of them occupied by park employees, Bundock said.

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The Steamboat Fire, off California 41 near the Badger Pass Ski Area, blackened more than 5,000 acres, bringing the evacuation of El Portal and Yosemite West, two small communities outside the park, Bundock said.

Robert Johnson, one of three district rangers in the park, described the “A” Rock Fire as the worst blaze he has seen in 19 years at Yosemite.

“It’s so smoky you can’t see anything,” he said. “It’s going in every direction. The wind is just swirling.”

The Crane Flat and Tamarack Flat campgrounds, a few miles from Foresta, had closed and been evacuated because of the fire, Johnson said.

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“We were in there (the “A” Rock fire) until it nearly burned my truck up,” said truck driver Ronnie Lake, 42, as he left the park Thursday evening. “That fire’s no joke.”

Throughout California, more than 6,000 firefighters from six state and federal agencies battled dozens of blazes that have blackened about 60,000 acres in less than a week of intense thunderstorm activity.

During that time, according to a California Division of Forestry estimate, lightning has hit the ground at least 16,701 times, torching tinder-dry trees experiencing their sixth year of drought.

The weather pattern that has spawned thunderstorms from one end of the state to the other--warm, humid air flooding out of the Gulf of Mexico--was expected to continue today, with the first cooling trend setting in Sunday.

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The onslaught of thunderstorms, lighting and fires reminded Frank Mosbacher, fire information officer for the Sacramento Multiple Agency Coordinating Group, of the “Siege of 1987" when fires scorched about 800,000 acres in California within three weeks.

Then, as now, the group was activated to evaluate the many fires according to their threat to people and property and to assign firefighters and equipment to fight them.

The two big fires in Yosemite were ranked near the top Thursday.

Further south in Sequoia National Forest, the Stormy Complex Fire still blazed out of control six miles northwest of Kernville in Tulare County. More than 1,600 firefighters were battling the 6,000-acre fire as it threatened the suburban community of Wofford Heights. The fire was only about 10% contained by Thursday.

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In Tejon Canyon about 20 miles southeast of Bakersfield, another lightning-caused fire that had scorched about 10,000 acres was reported 75% contained Thursday. But fire officials said the Alpine Forest and Stallion Springs subdivisions might be threatened if firefighters failed to stop the blaze on its eastern flank.

The state’s largest fire burned southeast of Red Bluff in Northern California and by Thursday afternoon had only been 30% contained. The 29,200-acre blaze had forced evacuation of about 20 homes near Cohasset Wednesday night, as 1,889 firefighters manned the lines.

A smaller blaze burning nearby in Dye Creek was contained Thursday morning after burning across 5,200 acres.

Maass reported from Yosemite, Kendall from Los Angeles.

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