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Parts of Yosemite closed ‘indefinitely’ due to fire

Ferguson Fire restricts access to one of California’s most valued natural spaces

A sign by the roadside telling drivers that Yosemite is closed. Cal Fire

Update, August 5: The National Park Service announced Sunday that much of Yosemite National Park will close to visitors indefinitely as fire crews continue to struggle against the seemingly never-ending Ferguson Fire, which began over three weeks ago and still threatens the park as a whole.

In a Sunday press release, spokesperson Scott Gediman said:

Due to increased fire activity in the areas adjacent to and on Yosemite National Park, park administrators and fire managers have made the decision to extend the current park closures indefinitely.

[...] The following areas remain closed: Yosemite Valley, El Portal Road, Wawona Road, Big Oak Flat Road, Glacier Point, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, Wawona Campground, Crane Flat Campground, Tamarack Campground, and several other sections of the Park.

According to Cal Fire’s latest update about the blaze, the Ferguson Fire is now more than 38,000 acres in size and less than 40 percent contained.

Two Cal Fire workers, one firefighter and one bulldozer operator, have died while working on the Carr Fire. So far 11 structures have been destroyed.

A sign by the roadside telling drivers that Yosemite is closed. Cal Fire

Update, July 30: A fire crew captain died while working on the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite on Sunday. Cal Fire reports that a tree fell on Brian Hughes, who died before medical transportation could arrive.

After nearly 17 days, the state now records the fire as being more than 54,400 acres. Although Cal Fire reports progress fighting the burn, it’s still only about 30 percent contained Sunday evening, little more than last week.

Yosemite National Parks says Yosemite Valley, previously evacuated, will likely reopen on Friday. Park management says “limited services” will be available, but cautions that “the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and the Wawona Road (Highway 41) from the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park to Tunnel View will remain closed.”

Update 26: As of Thursday morning, the Ferguson Fire burned 5,000 additional acres, which brings the total estimate to 43,299 acres. Yosemite park visitors were evacuated around some of the park’s most popular areas, like Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. These areas will be closed until Sunday.

According to CalFire, the blaze stands at 27 perfect containment.

Update, July 25: On Tuesday, Yosemite National Park announced that the Wawona campground and the Yosemite Valley area would close starting today in response to the ongoing Ferguson Fire.

“These closures include all hotels, campgrounds, and visitor services in Yosemite Valley and Wawona,” according to Cal Fire, adding that “park visitors currently staying in park campgrounds and lodging facilities are asked to be out of these areas by Noon [Wednesday].”

Closures are presently scheduled to last through Sunday, July 29, although with fire crews still struggling to bring the burn under control it’s possible they may be extended.

Wawona, a “mid-level basin,” is home to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Yosemite Valley is one of the most famous and picturesque regions of the entire park.

As of Tuesday evening the Ferguson Fire had grown to nearly 37,800 acres, and fire crews report it still only 26 percent contained. So far the fire has claimed one casualty, a firefighter who died July 14, just hours after the fire began.

Update July 23: On Sunday evening, Cal Fire reported that it now estimates the Ferguson Fire at more than 32,000 acres, a surge of 10,000-plus since the end of last week.

Containment, previously reported at just seven percent, is now down to six—technically a larger area, given the increased proportions of the fire; however, but representing essentially no progress in taming the blaze nearly a week and a half after its July 13 breakout.

The state agency announced evacuation orders for some new Mariposa County sites over the weekend. Currently, mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for the following areas:

  • El Portal Trailer Court
  • Jerseydale/Maripose Pines
  • Sweetwater Ride
  • Savage’s Trading Post
  • Cedar Lodge/Indian Flat
  • Old El Portal
  • Rancheria Flat
  • Foresta
  • Yosemite West
  • Yosemite View Lodge
  • Old Yosemite Road
  • “Incline Road from Clearing House to the last BLM campground.”

The presently established evacuation center is New Life Christian Fellowship Church at 5089 Cole Road in Mariposa.

Yosemite National Park remains open and the fire doesn’t appear to have spread within its bounds, although the blaze remains a threat to the parkland.

Update: On Friday morning, Cal Fire reported that after nearly a week the Ferguson Fire has grown to more than 22,000 acres and isn’t any closer to being tamed, reporting only seven-percent containment.

On Thursday, Cal Fire responded by issuing evacuation orders for the El Portal Trailer Court/El Portal Mobile Home Park in the town of El Portal, near Incline and Yosemite West. The order advises:

“Highway 140 West to Mariposa remains closed. Residents will need to use Highway 140 East through Yosemite to exit the area. Please drive with caution and watch for responding emergency traffic.”

There are also evacuation advisories in place for the following communities as of Thursday:

Yosemite West, Lushmeadows, Ponderosa basin, “Triangle road from Jerseydale Road to Highway 49 South, including all side roads,” “Darrah Road from Triangle to Sherrod,” “East side of Highway 49 South from Darrah to Harris,” including Wass Road, Tip Top Road, Boyer Road, and Woodland Area, the National Park Service El Portal Complex, Rancheria Flat, and Old El Portal.

As always, evacuation orders are mandatory in California, and failing to heed them may result in a fine or jail time. More to the point, failure to evacuate may also result in injury or death, so anyone in any of the affected areas should leave.

The orders also note that “a Red Cross Shelter is currently at the New Life Christian Church located at 5089 Cole Rd, Mariposa.”

Photo by Cal Fire.

Update: On Wednesday evening, U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Dean Gould issued an order barring the public from large areas of the Sierra National Forest in an effort not to hinder firefighting efforts:

The following acts are prohibited within the Sierra National Forest:

1. Going into or being upon National Forest System lands within the Ferguson Fire Closure Area. [See map. ...]

2. Being on any National Forest System road within the Ferguson Fire Closure Area.

[...] A violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

As of Thursday, Cal Fire reports that the still-growing Ferguson Fire on the edge of Yosemite National Park had enlarged its perimeter to cover more than 20,000 acres.

Update: On Wednesday morning, Cal Fire reported little progress attempting to blockade the fire presently burning at the edge of Yosemite. Overnight the Ferguson Fire grew from a reported 12,500 acres in size to now more than 17,300 acres, but still just five percent containment reported.

According to a Cal Fire press release:

The fire is now established in the bottom of Sweetwater Creek. [...] Weather today is predicted to be hot and dry, and the smoke inversion is again expected to stay over the area until mid- to late- afternoon.

Monsoonal moisture is expected to start pushing in from the South, and some thunderstorm buildup can be expected over the Sierra Crest by late afternoon. Thunderstorms can produce gusty, erratic winds, causing hazards for firefighters.

Indeed, the National Weather Service reports that temperatures in nearby Merced will approach or exceed 100 degrees every day this week, with today being the hottest forecast.

All previous evacuation orders are still in effect.

On Tuesday morning, Cal Fire reported that the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County has now swelled to more than 12,500 acres, potentially threatening Yosemite National Park.

Although the fire is spreading at a slower rate of growth than the previous two days, the agency reports just five percent containment on the growing conflagration. The burn began on Saturday and has since spread mostly unchallenged on the edge of Yosemite.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the fire appears to be principally fueled by dead and water-starved trees in the region as it sweeps through a drought-stricken area:

The fire is traveling along the south fork of the Merced River, between groves of trees that have died in the last two years (about 89 million in 2016 and 2017,) according to a state tree mortality map.

Since then, the trees’ leaves and needles have dried up and fallen to the ground, creating a flammable layer that has not been touched by recent fires, officials said. The combination dead or dying fuels mixed with fire poses an amplified hazard for firefighters,

Note that mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for the communities of Cedar Lodge, Jerseydale, Sweetwater Ridge, Savage’s Trading Post, Briceburg, Mariposa Pines, and the stretch of Incline Road between Clearing House and the Foresta Bridge.

Also be warned that Highway 140 is closed between Mariposa and El Portal. No one has yet reported structure damage, but hundreds of homes are threatened.

In other fire news, the Cal Fire recently reported full containment on the enormous County Fire, and both the Klamathon Fire on the Oregon border and the smaller Steamboat Fire nearby are nearing containment on Tuesday morning.