Fierce winds pushed a small and slow-burning fire to spread across 700 acres of Yosemite National Park on Sunday, forcing evacuations and trail closures.
More than 100 hikers and climbers were evacuated, including 40 from Half Dome, as six elite fire suppression crews and seven helicopters sought to control the blaze, said Tim Ludington, a park spokesman.
“The fire was getting very close to the trail to Half Dome and we didn’t want to take the chance on people having to hike through the fire to get back,” he said.
Ludington said the fire began July 20 from a lightning strike in a wilderness area at 8,000 feet elevation in the Little Yosemite Valley area on the north side of the Merced River. Park officials were letting it burn to restore the area’s natural fire patterns, and its high elevation and slow pace did not threaten public safety, Ludington said.
But that changed Sunday, when strong winds pushed the blaze -- which had burned just 19 acres in 49 days -- to quickly spread across lower-lying forest areas.
“We had really aggressive winds today -- that was the big change,” Ludington said. “We’re shooting for full suppression.”
He said the fire was not threatening any park roads or infrastructure. All evacuations were completed by 7 p.m., he added.
Battling the blaze were more than 100 firefighters and others from Yosemite National Park, Cal Fire, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, Mariposa County Fire, the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service.
Yosemite National Park and all roads leading there remained open. But trails near the Half Dome area, the Little Yosemite Valley area, Merced Lake and Sunrise High Sierra Camps, Clouds Rest and Echo Valley were closed.