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US heat wave soars as California wildfire rages

Tens of millions of Americans already baking in a scorching heat wave braced Saturday for record-setting temperatures to climb, while a major fire ravaged part of California.The country’s central and northeast regions face the brunt of the extreme temperatures, which are not expected to peak until Sunday at the earliest and have sent public health officials scrambling.

The sweltering heat has also increased the risk of blazes, such as the major Oak Fire, which broke out Friday in California near Yosemite National Park, where giant sequoias have already been threatened by fire in recent days.

The Oak Fire — described as “explosive” by officials — went from 60 acres to more than 6,555 (2,650 hectares) in less than 24 hours. Concentrated in Mariposa County, it has already destroyed ten properties and damaged five others, with thousands more threatened.

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As of midday Saturday, it was zero percent contained, according to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The department said the fire’s activity was “extreme” and that emergency personnel were working to evacuate residents and protect structures.

More than 400 firefighters assisted by water-dropping helicopters are fighting the blaze, the department said, but the Los Angeles Times cited officials who said it could take a week to contain.

“Explosive fire behavior is challenging firefighters,” the department added on its website.

Climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted that the fire was “exhibiting consistently extreme behavior,” while stunned social media users posted images of billowing plumes of smoke — with the LA Times reporting that the cloud reached up to 30,000 feet into the air.

In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge, hot and fast-moving wildfires, driven by years of drought and a warming climate.

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