(NewsNation) — Beth Pratt has been through about 20 wildfires, and she’s never seen anything like this one.
“It’s a monster,” Pratt said of the Oak Fire currently raging through Mariposa County in northern California. “This is the scariest fire I’ve experienced.”
The blaze has destroyed more than 18,000 acres of land and has grown into the state’s largest this year. Joining “NewsNation Prime” on Tuesday, Pratt, regional executive director of the California National Wildlife Federation, said she’s on pre-evacuation notice, meaning she needs to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“I’m packed up and just hoping I don’t get that text,” Pratt said. “It’s terrifying.”
Thousands have been forced to evacuate near Yosemite National Park, and at least 41 homes and other buildings have been destroyed across the roughly 30 square miles the fire has burned. About 6,000 residents from mountain communities were still under evacuation orders Tuesday, and officials said the blaze was 26% contained.
A resident of Midpines, California, for about 25 years, Pratt said the Oak Fire is behaving unlike any other she’s experienced. The state is in the middle of its worst drought on record, and extreme heat is compounding the dangerous conditions.
“It’s so dry up here that vegetation ignites with heat,” Pratt said. “Climate change has made this situation extreme.”
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters with aircraft support were battling the blaze that erupted last Friday southwest of Yosemite. It exploded in size Saturday as flames churned through tinder-dry brush and trees.
In a time of crisis, Pratt said people in the town of Midpines and larger Mariposa County have banded together to support each other. She also lauded the efforts of those fighting the blaze.
“I can’t thanks those firefighters and first responders enough,” Pratt said. “That we didn’t lose more (homes) is a testament to how hard they’ve all worked.”
The crews were aided Tuesday by better weather, including increased humidity levels as monsoonal moisture moved through the Sierra Nevada foothills, according to a morning report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
For Pratt, that report was a much-needed source of relief.
“Seeing the smoke billowing up in my front yard, I’m exhausted and scared, but hopeful that they are getting a handle on it,” Pratt said. “I feel really lucky that I may come through this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.