Sunday, 19 August, 2018

Yosemite National Park closure leads to big crowds at other parks

FF 7 25 18 Suzette Prue Ferguson Fire
Frank Williams | 29 July, 2018, 16:32

To the northeast, the Ferguson Fire forced the heart of the Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday after the blaze burning just to the west jumped fire lines overnight, pouring thick smoke into the valley and forcing visitors to pack up camp and flee.

Yosemite Valley will be closed until at least Sunday, along with a winding, mountainous, 20-mile (32-kilometre) stretch of California's State Route 41 that leads in, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

Officials emphasized Yosemite wasn't in imminent danger from the Ferguson Fire, which grew to more than 67 square miles in steep timber in the adjacent Sierra National Forest.

The Cranston Fire was the largest of at least five police believe were purposely set by a man whose auto was spotted at the starting point of the blaze in Riverside County, officials said.

According to USA Today, about 2,000 visitors were inside the park as of Tuesday. The popular Yosemite Valley and Wawona park areas are evacuated and will be closed at least until Sunday. "This is the first time Yosemite Valley has been closed due to a wildfire since 1990".

One of the fires erupted Wednesday afternoon and quickly spread to 7.5 square miles, fueled by dry brush and trees in rugged terrain.

An explosive wildfire tore through two small Morthern California communities Thursday before reaching homes in the city of Redding, destroying dozens of structures and a historic schoolhouse, and causing burn injuries to civilians and firefighters, a state fire official said. Air quality is expected to be unhealthy for all, in all areas of the parks.

The park announced that Yosemite Valley, home to such famous destinations as El Capitan and Half Dome, and Wawona were to be closed to all visitors.

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This is one of the many fires burning amid a statewide heat wave.

Over almost two weeks, flames have churned through more than 57 square miles (147.6 square kilometers) of timber in steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada just west of the park.

Since Ferguson broke out, a 36-year-old firefighter has died and six others have been injured.

More than 3,300 firefighters and 16 helicopters have been tackling the fire.

Executive Director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, Lisa Mayo, comments, "We know that visiting Yosemite is very special and for some visitors, this is their trip of a lifetime, so we are trying to do everything we can to give them the best experience possible under the circumstances".

French Gulch resident Raquel Hines said she had two hours to evacuate and that others in the former mining town had as little as 30 minutes to leave. The wildfire is only 5 percent contained. "Some want to ride it out for a few days and see if they can get back in the park".

Yosemite boasts sequoias, waterfalls, granite cliffs and peaks, red metamorphic rock and hundreds of trails, making it one of the most visited national parks in the country.

"There are wonderful places to visit in the region, so we're asking people to consider alternative plans", he said.

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