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Wildfire near Yosemite causes panic for tourists

Friday, August 23, 2013, 12:13 PM - A huge wildfire near California's famous Yosemite National Park has sent scores of tourists fleeing as the blaze rapidly spreads.

A large wildfire near Yosemite National Park is threatening thousands of homes and businesses.

The week-old fire more than tripled in size on Thursday thanks to strong winds and now spans a massive 217 square kilometres.

So far only one per cent of the blaze has been contained as more than 1,300 firefighters battle through difficult terrain to control the flames.

Yosemite remains open but already one of three entrances to the west side of the park has been shutdown due to fire.

The tourist attraction can receive up to 15,000 visitors a day during the summer. 

Fire began spreading in Stanislaus National Forest, west of Yosemite, and has so far destroyed two homes and seven outbuildings. Authorities warn another 2,500 buildings are under threat and could soon be evacuated.

The area's rugged terrain is making it difficult for firefighters to get around. Steep hills have made some places almost inaccessible.  

A state of emergency was declared by California governor Jerry Brown.

The wildfire is one of 51 burning across the United States. So far this year there have been more than 32,000, burning almost 14,000 sq/km.

The U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday that it is running out of money to fight wildfires. The agency has spent $967 million so far this year and was down to $50 million — enough for a few days of firefighting. 

Officials are diverting $600 million dollars from timber and recreation services to meet the shortfall.

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