A blaze burning in foothills west of Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of structures and forced thousands to flee Gold Rush-era towns but fire crews have been able to stop it from reaching a threatened community on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The fire was threatening about 1,500 homes and other buildings, after already destroying 29 structures. It's not clear what type of buildings burned. The flames are near Highway 49, a historical route winding its way up California foothills of the western Sierra Nevada dotted with little towns that sprouted along the gold Mother Lode that drew miners to California in the 1800s.
More than 3,000 firefighters were battling the four-day-old blaze that has scorched 75 square miles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
The fire has forced almost 5,000 people from homes in and around a half-dozen small communities, officials said.
Heavy smoke hung in the air over Mariposa, a town of 2,000 with century-old wooden buildings, including what's touted as the oldest active courthouse west of the Rocky Mountains.
The fire got within a half mile of Mariposa but crews have been able to keep it out of the town, Cal Fire spokesman Jason Motta said.
"Most of the town of Mariposa has not been affected by anything other than the smoke," Motta said.
Yosemite does not appear at risk from the fire, which was moving south on Wednesday, away from the park, California fire spokesman Jordan Motta said.
Tony Munoz, 63, and his wife, Edna Munoz, 59, were ordered out of their home outside Mariposa on Tuesday. They grabbed clothes, medicine and their three dogs and a cat before fleeing.
Driving out on narrow roads clogged by others getting out, "you couldn't even see the sun" in the ash-filled sky, said Tony Munoz, a school custodian.
Downtown Mariposa was empty except for firefighters and other emergency workers. Fierce flames were visible on slopes about a mile away.
* Associated Press