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By Jason Wells, Los Angeles Times

The wilderness near Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome has been completely evacuated as a wind-driven wildfire continued to spread through the area Tuesday, officials said.

The Meadow fire, last measured at nearly 2,600 acres, forced authorities to evacuate dozens of hikers by helicopter after flames cut off their exit. Approximately 100 people were evacuated from Little Yosemite Valley.

Park officials said they did not anticipate any more evacuations as 11 water-dropping aircraft continued to hit the fire from above. Hot-shot crews had also joined more than 120 firefighters at the fire’s perimeter, officials said.

Trails near Half Dome, Little Yosemite Valley, Merced Lake, the Sunrise High Sierra Camps, Clouds Rest, and Echo Valley remained closed.

The fire, believed to have been started by one of hundreds of lightning strikes last month, had been smoldering for 49 days at just under 20 acres.

Park officials had been letting it burn to restore the area’s natural fire patterns. Given its high elevation (8,000 feet) and slow pace, there was no threat to public safety, officials said.

But when winds pushed the flames into bone-dry brush near hiking trails on Sunday, the fire exploded and ended up cutting off dozens of mountain climbers and hikers from park exits, prompting the evacuations from Half Dome.

Rachael Kirk, 26, of Oakland, Calif., told Fox News that she and two friends were about 400 feet below the summit when the fire started to roar behind them. She said a park employee insisted they climb the board-and-cable stairway up to the summit — the only place the helicopter could land.

“That was the moment everyone felt scared,” she said.

Tim Ludington, a park spokesman, told The L.A. Times that the decision to evacuate the hikers by air was the safest option.

“The fire was getting very close to the trail to Half Dome and we didn’t want to take the chance on people having to hike through the fire to get back,” he said.

A burst of cooler of temperatures and moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Norbert were expected to provide some relief to firefighters as the weather system moved across the state.

No fire containment figure was immediately available.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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