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Tourists flee huge fire near Yosemite park in California

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

FRESNO, Calif. — A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park more than tripled in size on Thursday, shutting down businesses in surrounding communities and leading scores of tourists to leave the area during peak season.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as a result of the huge fire, one of several burning in or near the nation's national parks and one of 50 major uncontained blazes burning across the West.

Fire officials said the blaze near Yosemite, which threatens several thousand homes, hotels and camp buildings, had grown to more than 84 square miles and was only 2 percent contained, down from 5 percent a day earlier. Two homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed.

While the park remains open, the blaze has caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that live off park-fueled tourism.

Officials have advised voluntary evacuations of the gated summer community of Pine Mountain Lake, population 2,800, other area residences, several organized camps and at least two campgrounds. More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about five miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.

“Usually during summer, it's swamped with tourists, you can't find parking downtown,” said Christina Wilkinson, who runs Groveland's social media pages and lives in Pine Mountain Lake. “Now the streets are empty. All we see is firefighters, emergency personnel and fire trucks.”

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