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Fire crews are gaining the upper hand on the Oak Fire near Yosemite


Firefighters are making gains on the Oak Fire burning near Yosemite National Park. California's largest fire of the year so far has consumed nearly 19,000 acres and forced thousands to flee. Families there are beginning to reckon with the devastation. From KVPR in Fresno, Joshua Yeager has more.

JOSHUA YEAGER, BYLINE: The fire exploded in a matter of hours last week. It burned at an intensity and pace that local crews said they had never seen before. Flames chewed through dozens of structures. Among them, Heather and Aaron Martinez's (ph) home in the small mountain community of Jerseydale.

AARON MARTINEZ: It was gut-wrenching.

YEAGER: Standing in the aftermath, Aaron Martinez chokes up. They lost everything.

A MARTINEZ: It's beyond gut-wrenching. I wept for the land. I wept for all the animals and everything I see. I see it right now. This whole mountainside's still smoldering. But it's still filled with lots of life and lots of life that needs help.

YEAGER: When the fire broke out, the couple was out shopping about an hour away. Heather Martinez says they didn't have a chance to grab that go bag they meticulously packed exactly for that moment.

HEATHER MARTINEZ: All the preparedness in the world did not help us.

YEAGER: Jerseydale was especially vulnerable to fire. Many trees were already dying because of beetles and drought. The fire moved swiftly through the community. An emergency worker discovered their month-old kitten severely burned in the rubble. He rushed the kitten to the vet, but it didn't survive. The couple fears their other cats also perished.

H MARTINEZ: Knowing that the rest of them probably met the same fate is just - I hope it was quick.

YEAGER: This is the third time the couple have evacuated due to wildfires since 2014. Still, they resolved to stay in the mountain community they've called home for 24 years.

A MARTINEZ: Like I said, I'm going to spend the rest of my life up here. I'll give my life to this mountain, to this community, to this area.

YEAGER: Officials are getting the fire under control, but it's tentative. Aaron Martinez says enduring this kind of crisis is the price of living in this wild place. Though he loves it here, the extremes, he says, are both beautiful and deadly.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Yeager in Mariposa, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF J'SAN AND EPEKTASE'S "DEEP DIVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joshua Yeager