Deadly Wildfire Nipping at Gates of Yosemite National Park

The Ferguson Fire burns near Yosemite National Park as seen from El Portal, Calif. (Carrie Anderson via AP)

(CN) – The Ferguson Fire continues to rage in California’s Mariposa County, charring more acreage while creeping closer to Yosemite National Park.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office issued a mandatory evacuation order to residents of the El Portal Trailer Court, four miles west of the Highway 140 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Nearly a week old, the fire has so far burned about 21,000 acres with only 7 percent containment, as about 2,100 firefighters continue to battle rugged terrain, access challenges and triple-digit temperatures.

“The Ferguson Fire is burning in very rough terrain with high firefighter exposure due to very hot conditions and limited access requiring heavy-rotor wing support,” the U.S. Forest Service said in its Thursday update.

Highway 140 remains closed about 2 miles east of Midpines all the way to the Cedar Lodge area, roughly a 15-mile stretch. Residents at the El Portal Trailer Court must drive east through the park and then evacuate using Highway 120 or by continuing east, according to the Mariposa Sheriff’s Office.

Other communities and locations currently under mandatory evacuation orders include Incline Road from Clearing House to the last BLM campground; Jerseydale and the Mariposa Pines area; Cedar Lodge and Indian Flat Campground; and Savage’s Trading Post and Sweetwater Ridge.

The National Park Service buildings at El Portal remain under an evacuation advisory but have yet to be ordered to flee the area – a good sign in the short term as firefighters attempt to prevent the blaze from entering the iconic national park.

Weather forecasters remain concerned that thunderstorms along the crest of the Sierra could create outflow winds that bring erratic and dangerous conditions for firefighters on the ground.

Firefighter, Braden Varney, 36, of Mariposa died in the blaze when the bulldozer he was using to establish fire lines flipped over and rolled down a steep ravine. His body was retrieved Monday after spending two days at the bottom of the gully. The community of 2,000 that has long served as a gateway to Yosemite National Park honored Varney with a procession on Tuesday.

Two other firefighters suffered injuries Wednesday, one a heat-related illness and the other a broken leg. Both are expected to recover.

“We’re five to six days into this fire now, a lot of these guys have been here since day one so they are getting a little tired,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Alex Olow told a Fresno television station. “They do get their work-rest cycles, we get them out of the mountain. They get their rest, they get fed, and right back out.”

Other fires continue to burn across the Golden State as officials grapple with an unprecedented number of fire starts in 2018.

On the heels of the deadliest, most economically destructive and largest fires in recorded history in 2017, California is looking at another season of destruction due to dry vegetation, hot weather and erratic wind patterns.

Irresponsible actions by residents and visitors have not helped either.

On Wednesday, Cal Fire announced they would bring criminal charges against a 17-year-old boy whose illegal use of fireworks sparked the 480-acre Grant Fire in Alameda County.

Other large fires, such as the Klamathon Fire, have largely been contained.

Currently, the Ferguson Fire remains the most active and represents the biggest threat to spread significantly and cause damage.

 

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