Thousands of people were ordered to abandon their homes and businesses near a fast-moving fire near Yosemite National Park on Saturday.

The forest fire that began Friday afternoon has now erupted to cover more than 26 square kilometers (10 square miles) according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Evacuation orders are now in place for over 6,000 people living in a sparsely populated rural area.

Image: AP

“The explosive behavior of the fire is testing firefighters,” the department said, describing the fire as “extreme with frequent runs, punctual fires and group fires.”

The fire had destroyed 10 residential and commercial structures by Saturday morning and threatened another 2,000.

It resulted in numerous road closures, including Highway 140 which is a major road to Yosemite.

Flames engulf a chair inside a burning house as oak fire burns in Mariposa County, California on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (AP Photo / Noah Berger)
Image: AP

More than 400 firefighters are fighting the fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, armed with water-launching helicopters and other firefighting planes, as well as bulldozers.

The fire was fueled by the warm climate, low humidity and extremely dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades, although its initial cause is unknown.

The flames of the Oak Fire devour a house on Triangle Road in Mariposa County, California on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Photo AP / Noah Berger)
Image: AP

Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest, said climate change has made the region much hotter and drier over the past 30 years, which has resulted in California facing bigger and more deadly wildfires.

Last year, almost in August 43,000 Californians were under evacuation orders while a dozen major fires raged across the state.

“The fire is moving fast. This fire threw embers in front of it for up to two miles yesterday. These are exceptional fire conditions,” Mr. Patterson warned.

A firefighter extinguishes the flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Road.  in Mariposa County, California on Friday, July 22, 2022. The crews managed to prevent him from reaching an adjacent house.  (AP Photo / Noah Berger)
Image: AP

Residents shared images on social media of a huge cloud of pyrocumulus extending into the atmosphere.

Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service, said the cloud tops stretched up to 30,000 feet into the sky Friday night.

The risk is that in extreme conditions, fires can begin to create their own weather system when smoke forms a cloud of pyrocumulonimbus, similar to normal cumulonimbus or storm clouds that produce hail, thunder and lightning.

Under current conditions, such weather conditions – and the resulting lightning strikes and stronger winds – could cause even more fires in a chain reaction of destruction.

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