Massive California wildfire forces thousands to evacuate

In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the sprawling Oak Fire continues to rapidly spread across central California outside Yosemite National Park. The blaze erupted Friday and has now consumed more than 16,000 acres. As firefighters battle the wildfire, the destruction has left thousands fleeing their homes, taking with them whatever they could. Nicole Ellis reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Firefighters are battling a devastating forest fire near Yosemite National Park in California, now in its third day. It has turned into one of the state's largest fires this year and forced thousands from their homes, all as a heat wave is still baking major parts of the country.

    Nicole Ellis begins our coverage with this report.

  • Nicole Ellis:

    In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the sprawling oak Fire continues to rapidly spread across central California. The blaze erupted Friday and has now consumed 16,000 acres. That's more than half the size of Boston.

    Planes poured retardant on the fire from above, while firefighters battled the inferno on the ground. Today, crews announced that they have contained 10 percent of the fire. They say it's now less extreme than on previous days. But the destruction has left thousands fleeing their homes, taking with them whatever they could.

  • Amber Blalock, Mariposa County Resident:

    We got the call that we had to evacuate and that a fire was coming with glee. I have two children.

  • Boone Jones, Evacuee:

    People are scrambling to get their stuff together now. It's — I don't know. It's pretty difficult.

  • Nicole Ellis:

    This fast-moving fire is gaining ground to the southwest of Yosemite National Park. It began within a half-mile of Mariposa Pines, about 100 miles east of San Francisco.

    It's caused smoke to creep across much of the San Joaquin Valley and prompted fears of air pollution across the state. Some have expressed frustration with people who decided to stay behind, despite being told to evacuate.

  • Rodney Maguire, Evacuee:

    When they tell you to leave, leave. Stubbornness is the worst thing. And if it doesn't kill you, it's going to kill somebody else.

  • Nicole Ellis:

    The cause of the Oak Fire is still under investigation. But a mixture of extended droughts, overgrown vegetation and baking heat waves fueled by climate change have increased the likelihood of wildfires.

    This one came as the U.S. sweltered through a weekend heat wave. Across the East Coast, kids played in fountains and families tried to dodge the concrete heat. But, as temperatures cool on the East, stifling new heat waves are expected to envelop the South and the Pacific Northwest.

    The first half of the year has already been punishing. The federal government has estimated weather and climate disasters have cost at least $9 billion in damage so far.

    For the "PBS NewsHour." I'm Nicole Ellis.

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