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Hundreds evacuate Kings Canyon National Park as massive fire swells

The National Park Service issued evacuation orders Thursday for hundreds of employees and visitors in the Sierra and Sequioa forests as the Rough fire exploded to more than 110,000 acres, making it the largest active fire in California.

Employees and residents of Wilsonia, the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, were asked to leave the area as firefighters increased their attack on the fast-moving blaze that threatened to spread into the area, park officials said.

Fire crews began burnout operations along Highway 180 on Wednesday night to minimize the risk of the blaze jumping across the road. The fire is 29% contained.

“It’s very slow, it’s very methodical,” Team 3 Incident Cmdr. Mark von Tillow told residents at a meeting Wednesday night. “We are not lighting this stuff up and ripping the trees off and you are not going to be left with a bunch of black sticks.”

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U.S. Forest officials say the drought is contributing to the active fire behavior. Much of the forest area is steep and plagued with dead trees killed off by pine bark beetles.

Years of drought have stressed millions of pine trees on forestland, making them more susceptible to bark beetle attacks. Forest officials estimate the Southern Sierra Nevada has 10.45 million dead trees.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks lie in the southern Sierra Nevada and are home to some of the largest and oldest living trees.

More than 2,100 firefighters are battling the lightning-sparked fire, which started July 31 just east of Fresno. The fire spread rapidly due to low humidity and warm temperatures.

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Von Tillow said the fire is burning anything in its path, even rocks.

Additional evacuation orders went out to residents north of Highway 180, stretching from Hopewell Road to the west, to the Armenian Church Western Diocese Summer Camp.

Highway 180 is closed east of Dunlap Road, as well as the following access roads: Highway 245 in Pinehurst, Millwood Road between Dunlap and Highway 180, and Highway 198 at Red Fir into Kings Canyon National Road.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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