- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) | Little relief from hot weather is expected this week as crews fight to contain a wildfire near an entrance to Yosemite National Park that has destroyed 12 homes and forced the evacuation of nearly 200 others.

The blaze had charred more than 26,000 acres - over 40 square miles - since Friday as wooded slopes ignited. Besides the homes destroyed, the fire had also engulfed 27 other buildings.

Officials ordered the evacuations of 195 homes under immediate threat, but some residents defied orders and stayed to protect their property. About 2,000 homes faced at least some danger from the fast-spreading flames, said Wayne Barringer, a state fire spokesman on the scene.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, about 12 miles from the park. The southern edge of the blaze was as little as two miles from Mariposa, a town of about 1,800 residents.

“My house is about 100 yards from some fire right now, and that’s freaking me out,” said John Romero, who answered his phone Sunday evening during a break from digging trenches and clearing brush with a little tractor.

Mr. Romero said his brother, Tony Romero, has an adjoining property with a 50,000-gallon swimming pool. The brothers planned to pump water from the pool to defend their homes if the fire advanced that far.

He said the air was thick with smoke. “I feel like I’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes, and I don’t smoke,” John Romero said.

Weather early this week is expected to bring little change from the hot, dry conditions that have plagued California for months. High temperatures are expected to remain in the low- to mid-90s, with low humidity and afternoon wind, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Gudgel said early Monday.

“It’ll be a challenging fire for them to fight,” Mr. Gudgel said.

State fire officials said the blaze was ignited by sparks created from firearms used for target practice, but would not elaborate.

Mary Ann Porter, a nursing assistant who lives in Midpines, left her goats, chickens and dog when she evacuated Sunday morning. Ms. Porter, who lives with her daughter and grandchildren, said the family took pictures and some computer hard drives.

“One of the blessings of living up here is that you adapt and learn to accept things,” she said at the evacuation center in Mariposa.

To protect firefighters battling flames beneath power lines, electricity was cut to a wide area, fire officials said.

James Guidi Jr., a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric, said the transmission line that fed power to Yosemite was destroyed by the fire on Saturday. Mobile generators were being set up to restore power to the whole park and to about 500 customers nearby by Monday evening. In all, about 1,000 customers in the area had lost power, Mr. Guidi said.

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