Hikers evacuated from Half Dome as wildfire spreads in Yosemite

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (CNN) — Helicopters plucked hikers from atop Yosemite’s Half Dome peak and other parts of the national park after a wildfire spread rapidly.

Around 100 hikers were evacuated from Half Dome, Little Yosemite Valley and nearby trails after the fire quickly swelled to engulf roughly 700 acres of land, park authorities said.

The blaze, dubbed the Meadow Fire, began around noon Sunday in the park’s backcountry wilderness, east of Half Dome, a towering granite formation that is one of the park’s best known features.

Images from the scene showed a huge plume of smoke billowing over the park’s mountainous terrain.

“As soon as the wind was catching it, the flames were 200-foot high,” Mark Fidler, a hiker who was airlifted to safety, told CNN affiliate KFSN. “It was pretty scary at points.”

Seven helicopters, a plane and ground teams spent the afternoon battling the fire, which is in an area at an elevation of 7,000 feet, park authorities said.

The fire began on July 20 after a lightning strike, but park officials had been letting it burn to restore the area’s natural fire patterns, park spokesman Tim Ludington told the Los Angeles Times. It burned only 19 acres in 49 days, but the fire suddenly exploded Sunday when winds pushed it into heavily forested areas, Luddington said.

Hundreds of firefighters have already spent days tackling a fire that has torched at least 300 acres near the national park. That fire, in Mariposa County, started Friday.

Authorities have said that California’s ongoing historic drought has helped fuel the fires in the area.

More than 100 firefighters were battling the blaze Sunday evening.

“We’re shooting for full suppression,” Luddington said.

Trails in Little Yosemite Valley, and near Half Dome, Lake Merced and Clouds Rest were closed.