Deadly Yosemite National Park Fire Doubles In Size, Shuts Major Route

The blaze could morph into a 'major threat' to the park, climate scientist cautioned.

Yosemite National Park fire
Noah Berger / AP Images

The blaze could morph into a 'major threat' to the park, climate scientist cautioned.

A wildfire along the Merced River, which killed a firefighter on Saturday, has quickly grown in size, triggering the closure of a key route and the order of evacuations.

The Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County pushed closer to Yosemite National Park on Monday as it engulfed some 9,000 acres, KTLA 5 reported. The blaze, which broke out on Friday, is only 2 percent contained despite the efforts of over 500 firefighters.

Guests at the Yosemite Cedar Lodge, a popular hotel inside the park, were ordered to evacuate on Saturday as the flames leaped closer.

“You can’t see anything, it’s so smoky outside. It’s crazy,” said front desk clerk Spencer Arebalo, as quoted by Yahoo News.

Evacuations were also issued for rural communities on the edge of the Yosemite National Park as well as nearby motels. Meanwhile, a portion of Highway 140 into the park shuttered over the weekend, prompting motorists to seek alternative routes.

As of early Monday morning, the fire has yet to claim any structures, but some 108 buildings along Highway 140 fall under threat. Firefighters toiled at preserving them and preventing the blaze from crossing over Ferguson Ridge, SF Gate reported.

Pacific Gas and Electric has de-energized its power lines in the park, leaving it, as well the El Portal and Foresta areas, without electricity.

The fire “may eventually become a major threat” to the park, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles, told USA Today.

The inferno feeds, in part, on the dry area, strewn with dead trees and brush. The steep hilly terrain thwarts firefighters’ access to the fire as the temperatures reached triple digits over the weekend, further exacerbating the conditions on the ground.

“It is a very active fire, and since we’re in a very warm trend, with afternoon temperatures in the triple digits, fire activity is expected to be on the high side,” said Alex Olow, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Due to the dangerous circumstances, the body of Braden Varney, a bulldozer operator who died on Saturday as he built a firebreak, laid unrecovered in a “precarious location” Sunday. Authorities expect to retrieve it on Monday.

With its cause yet to be determined, the fire is among several large blazes scorching the American West, as it grapples with a heat wave and drought.

The fire that burned through 142 square miles in Yolo and Napa Counties, destroying some 20 structures, is now under control. An improperly installed electric livestock fence sparked the blaze, investigators said.

The flames that charred a swath of the California – Oregon border have also been subdued, but not before they killed a 72-year-old resident and injured three firefighters as it charred over 60 square miles.