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Containment Slow For Ferguson Fire Near Yosemite

Noah Berger / AP Photo

An air tanker drops retardant while fighting to stop the Ferguson Fire from reaching homes in the Darrah community of unincorporated Mariposa Count, Calif., Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

Noah Berger / AP Photo

UPDATE Sunday, July 29, 4 p.m.

Up-to-date information on Ferguson Fire evacuations can be found here.

A second firefighter has died fighting the Ferguson Fire in the Sierra National Forest, according to the Mariposa County sheriff. The firefighter was struck by a tree and treated on scene, but passed away before he could be taken to a hospital.

Cal Fire bulldozer operator Brandon Varney was killed fighting the fire several weeks ago.

The blaze near Yosemite National Park is 53,646 acres and 30 percent contained. The park, which closed due to unhealthy air conditions, is scheduled to reopen Friday.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 11:56 a.m.

The Ferguson fire grew overnight, but so did containment. The blaze in Mariposa County was 45,911 acres and 29 percent contained as of 6 a.m.

A persistent inversion layer is expected to shield the fire from excessively high temperatures Friday, while winds are expected to return out of the west-southwest.

UPDATE Thursday, July 26, 4:38 p.m.

Firefighters on the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County hope they've caught a break after it breached the southern containment line and caused 3,000 people to evacuate on Wednesday.

Although the blaze is burning toward Highway 49, it is doing so slowly, and downhill, which is the opposite direction fires typically like to burn.

Jaydeana Hull is a spokesperson for the agencies and departments fighting the fire. She says work is underway at the bottom of the hill along three roads to stop any additional progress.

She also said roads will be used, along with “fuel breaks” created by bulldozers so that, when the fire moves down the hill, “it reduces the chance of getting any spots across,” Hull said.

Efforts by firefighters to burn fuel ahead of the Ferguson Fire’s south flank did not go as planned earlier this week. On Tuesday, the fire jumped the containment line and headed toward the Lushmeadows and Ponderosa Basin areas of Mariposa County.

On the north side of the fire, incident command reports bulldozers and firefighters completed a containment line from the Five Corners area to Pilot Peak and around the community of Wawona and El Portal.

The northern flank of the fire burning near Yosemite has been relatively calm, though hundred-degree temperatures this week could change that.

The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories for Northern California from Modesto to the Oregon State Line.

Nearly 3,700 firefighters are on the blaze that's burned 43,299 acres.

UPDATE Thursday, July 26, 4:02 p.m.

Up-to-date information on Ferguson Fire evacuations can be found here.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Mariposa County due to the Ferguson Fire. The fire has burned 43,299 acres and is 27 percent contained.

UPDATE Thursday, July 26, 8:50 a.m.

The Ferguson Fire has claimed its first structure, according to the U.S. Forest Service morning update.

The structure burned several days ago, but fire crews were not able to get close enough to see what the building was, according to incident command. They're still unsure what kind of structure it was, only that it was not a house.

The fire has consumed 43,299 acres so far and is 27 percent contained. It continues to grow at a relatively slow pace to the north and on the south flank. Growth to the south caused the areas of Lushmeadows and Ponderosa Basin to evacuate Wednesday morning.

Yosemite National Park also issued a Stage 1 fire restriction that prohibits camp fires below 6,000 feet unless they are in a fire pit within an approved campsite.

Nearly 3,700 firefighters and support staff are working the fire, which started July 13 about halfway between the town of Mariposa and Yosemite National Park on Highway 140.

UPDATE Wednesday, July 25, 6:37 p.m.

A steady stream of cars, pickups and trailers made their way down Highway 49 in Mariposa Wednesday morning after the Ferguson Fire jumped the containment line to the south.

Evacuation Orders now stretch from Highway 140 to the north to Highway 49 to the south.

The fire has burned 41,576 acres and is 26 percent contained.

UPDATE Wednesday July 25, 12:42 p.m.

Spot fires overnight have caused more evacuations southeast of the Ferguson Fire. Whereas the previous evacuations had affected about 200 people, the evacuation orders for Ponderosa Basin and Lushmeadows increases that number considerably to 3,500, according to incident command. 

Red Cross evacuation shelters have been established at:

  • New Life Christian Church: 5089 Cole Rd, Mariposa, CA, 95338
  • Mariposa Elementary School: 5044 Jones St, Mariposa, CA 95338 
  • Mountain Christian Center: 40299 CA-49, Oakhurst, CA 93644

UPDATE Wednesday July 25, 9:13 a.m.

Up-to-date information on Ferguson Fire evacuations can be found here.

Hear CapRadio reporter Bob Moffitt's update from Yosemite

Visitors leaving Yosemite National Park are mostly upbeat, despite the change in plans and heavy smoke.

“They told us they were closing the park and kicking everybody out of the campground," visitor Laurie Walker said "And we said, ‘Is this because of the air quality?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ But, as we were driving out you can see the fire burning on the ridge.”

Wednesday Cal Fire is planning to burn from existing roads and fire lines and burning toward the fire, to remove fuel as the blaze continues to spread.

The fire has already burned 38,522 acres and is 25 contained.

UPDATE Tuesday, July 24, 2:18 p.m.

National Park Service officials have given people in Yosemite Valley and Wawona until noon on Wednesday to evacuate. The reason for these areas’ closures is air quality, not fire danger.

Firefighters also are evacuating the park to obtain unencumbered access to roadways, and to possibly use buildings and lodging.

The Mariposa County Health Department made the recommendation to the National Park Service after air quality reached unhealthy levels, and is expected to stay there through the weekend.

Ginnie Day with the department says it based its decision on the readings provided by U.S. Forest Service sensors. "Extra monitoring stations were set up just because of the Ferguson Fire throughout Mariposa County and in Yosemite Valley," she said.

The air quality varies between unhealthy and very unhealthy near the fire, according to the forest service map.

Day says the county will change its recommendation when the air quality improves. “We’re looking at something in the range that has less of an impact on employees and visitors and their health,” Day said.

Hotels and campgrounds will be closed and new visitors will not be allowed in. The closure is expected to last until Sunday.

The fire has burned 36,587 acres and is 25 percent contained. Incident command says air tankers have been able to fly as of Monday,and have helped knock down the fire in some areas.

UPDATE Tuesday, July 24, 1:33 p.m.

(AP) — A section of Yosemite National Park will be closed for several days at the height of summer tourist season as crews try to stop a stubborn and growing wildfire from spreading, authorities in Northern California announced Tuesday.

Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds told a community meeting that a 20-mile stretch of State Route 41 will close beginning Wednesday at noon. The closure was expected to last through Sunday.

"Get yourself out of here if you can," Reynolds told a crowd of about 60 people at the Yosemite Valley Auditorium, according to the Fresno Bee.

The section of the park, known as Yosemite Valley, is the centerpiece of the visitor experience, offering views of landmarks such as Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Bridal Veil Fall, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The glacial valley's grand vista of waterfalls and shear granite faces has been obscured by a choking haze of smoke from a nearby wildfire.

Visitors were advised to "limit activity during the periods of poor air quality," the park said in a statement. "Some facilities and services are closed or diminished."

Over nearly two weeks, flames have churned through more than 57 square miles of timber in steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada just west of the park. The fire was just 25 percent contained Tuesday morning.

Mandatory evacuations are in place in several communities while others have been told to get ready to leave if necessary.

More than 3,300 firefighters are working the fire, aided by 16 helicopters. One firefighter was killed July 14, and six others have been injured.

In the state's far north, a nearly 4-square-mile wildfire has forced the evacuation of French Gulch, a small Shasta County community that dates to the Gold Rush.

UPDATE Tuesday, July 24, 7:33 a.m.

The Ferguson Fire continues to burn with 25 percent containment in the Sierra National Forest. The fire has scorched 36,587 acres at last count and is burning in heavily forested areas and also in steep, rocky terrain.

Jacob Welsh is a public information officer with the joint incident command being operated by the U.S Forest Service, Cal Fire and Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department. He says firefighters will not be attacking the blaze directly in many areas.

“We can’t go direct on it. So, we’re taking more of an indirect containment line strategy and that’s using existing road systems,” Welsh said.

Officials are holding a Ferguson Fire community meeting on Tuesday, July 24 at 11 a.m. at the Yosemite Valley Auditorium to update residents on the fire. Representatives from Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office will be there to give an overview of the current situaiton. Residents attending the meeting can park along Village Drive or in the Yosemite Village Parking Area.

More than 3,000 personnel are now on the fire, which started July 13. Strike teams are working 24-hour shifts. More than 400 firefighters, including hot shot crews and bulldozers, moved to the north side of the river after the fire jumped the containment line Friday.

Highway 140 remains closed from the Midpines area to the Yosemite National Park entrance.

The National Weather Service says a widespread heat advisory including the fire area will be in effect Tuesday afternoon through Thursday evening for high temperatures ranging from 103 to 108 degrees.

For people hoping to see more air tankers assisting the fire, an inversion layer over the southern part of the fire that had limited visibility lifted this morning, and air tanker support was requested.

Two evacuation centers are now open in Mariposa County, one north of the Merced River at Yosemite Valley Elementary School and one south of the fire at the New Life Christian Fellowship on Cole Road.

While incident command says the evacuation orders are necessary, it also says firefighters have made good progress in establishing structure protection for homes that may be in the fire line. There are 3,494 structures threatened at this time.

A memorial service was held Monday in Modesto for Braden Varney, the bulldozer operator who died in the early hours of the firefight more than a week ago. He is survived by a wife and two small children. A GoFundMe account has been established in his name and has raised more than $70,000 so far.

Investigators have not released the cause of the fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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