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Yosemite Fire Prompts Helicopter Evacuation Near Half Dome Peak

About 100 Yosemite National Park visitors were evacuated by helicopter Sunday when a wildfire that started weeks ago in the park's backcountry grew unexpectedly to at least 700 acres, officials said.

Some of the evacuees included hikers who had climbed the park's iconic Half Dome peak, rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. Others had to be airlifted from campgrounds and hiking trails in the area, she said.

Firefighters had monitored and controlled the lightning-sparked fire that started several weeks ago between Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, Cobb said.

Strong winds and high temperatures ignited a spot fire on Sunday, and it rapidly grew.

"We just got unbelievable crazy winds and unexpected hot conditions," Tim Ludington, the park's chief of roads and trails, told the Fresno Bee. "The fire behavior totally changed."

Several trails were closed, but roads into Yosemite remained open.

About 15 miles southwest of the park, firefighters were slowly gaining the upper hand on a wildfire near the town of Mariposa.

The 300-acre blaze was 70 percent contained, and an evacuation order already has been lifted for the 300 homes most threatened by the fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. A portion of Highway 49, a main entrance into the park, was briefly closed.

The fire broke out Friday afternoon and threatened a total of 700 homes and five businesses.

Steep terrain in the area and the dry conditions brought on by California's drought initially hampered firefighters, one of whom received a minor injury Friday, officials said.

Meanwhile, in far Northern California, firefighters increased their control over a blaze that broke out nearly a month ago and despite it growing to 151 square miles. U.S. Forest Service officials said Sunday that no structures have been damaged, and the fire was 30 percent contained.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department on Saturday night issued an evacuation advisory for an undetermined number of residents in a neighborhood newly threatened by the fire. The residents weren't required to leave but advised to prepare to evacuate.

Forest Service officials estimate that $54.7 million has been spent and nearly 2,700 people used to fight the fire.

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