EL PORTAL, Calif. (CN) – A forest fire continues to burn out of control on the western side of Yosemite National Park, and firefighters are struggling in difficult terrain and triple-digit heat to keep the flames from entering the iconic park.
“The terrain and field conditions have been really tough on the firefighters,” said Jim Mackensen of the U.S. Forest Service on Monday. “It’s some of the deepest steepest ground in the Sierra with all the steep canyons and gulches.”
The Ferguson Fire has grown steadily since sparking July 13, blackening about 33,700 acres in the area immediately west of Yosemite National Park. Approximately 3,000 firefighters are on the fire lines, which is only 13 percent contained due to topographical complications.
“There is little if any fire history in the area dating back 150 years,” Mackensen said. “There are a lot of really dry fuels, meaning the fire has plenty of food.”
While the towns of Midpines and Mariposa on the fire’s western flank remain relatively unaffected, the large blaze’s entrance into Yosemite is likely more of a when than if.
“All indications are that at some point it is going to cross into the park,” Mackensen said. “I don’t have any type of timeline at this point, because it is largely dependent on weather.”
As of Monday, the eastern flank of the Ferguson Fire is only about 1.5 miles from the park boundary. The copious amounts of smoke from the fire has affected tourists and travelers to the park and other parts of the Sierra, including Lake Tahoe.
“Yesterday the fire got plenty of air,” Mackensen said. “It started to breathe and came to life in a big way.”
Before Sunday, inversions in the area kept the fire relatively subdued. But once they dispersed, the blaze grew and the smoke columns visible even in the San Francisco Bay Area towered up into the sky.
Neighborhoods around El Portal and Wawona are either under mandatory evacuation or advisory evacuation orders, according to the forest service.
One firefighter has been killed in the fight so far and a few others have been injured.
No structures have been destroyed, but the forest service says 216 are threatened.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the north part of the state are battling the 1,000-acre Carr Fire, which broke out Monday near the Shasta County town of French Gulch. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for French Gulch, and the blaze has closed Highway 299 in both directions.
Crews battling the Carr Fire are working in 105-degree heat, with forecasters calling for a high of 107 on Tuesday and up to 110 by Thursday.