SACRAMENTO — A 1,850-acre wildfire burning in Calaveras County west of Yosemite National Park Thursday forced evacuations from nine communities and damaged the water supply to five towns, authorities said.
The Darby fire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon, was burning heavy brush and timber about two miles from the small town of Hathaway Pines, 25 miles northwest of Yosemite.
It was one of two major wildfires that had burned more than 143,000 acres of brush and timber in Northern California, said Karen Terrill, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry.
The Darby fire forced evacuations of about 150 homes in the nine communities, and one area was put on alert. At least 60 people spent the night at an evacuation center set up at a nearby elementary school in the town of Murphys.
"It was a 4-in-the-morning, grab-the-dog-and-go type of thing," said Kelly Osborn, principal of Albert Michelson Elementary School.
The fire heavily damaged a wooden flume from the Gold Rush era, forcing residents to ration water, said Paula Schnarr, a fire information officer for the California Department of Forestry. The communities of Angels Camp, Six Mile Village, Carson Hill, Douglas Flat and Murphys had only two days of water left, and the aqueduct could take three months to repair, Schnarr said.
About 820 firefighters dug into steep, rocky terrain, using bulldozers, chain saws and shovels to strip away heavy brush and cut down trees to make a line around the fire.
As the evening progressed, firefighters made headway against the fire, which has forced crews to launch aggressive air attacks, Schnarr said.
By late Thursday, the fire was 40% contained, Schnarr said, compared to 10% earlier in the day. And winds blew the fire east into sparsely populated Tuolumne County, Schnarr said.
"There are no homes threatened in Tuolumne County," she said. "Right now, things are looking pretty good. . . . Earlier, we were scared to death."
Meanwhile, a major wildfire known as the Star fire continued to burn Thursday along the Middle Fork of the American River.
More than 2,100 firefighters were fighting that blaze, which had burned 12,730 acres of brush and pine as of midday Thursday. It was 57% contained, with full containment expected by today, said Gay Gorden, information officer for the U.S. Fire Service.
The Star fire broke out Aug. 26. Its cause is unknown.