Heart of Yosemite to close as crews battle raging wildfire

Cristina Cross
July 29, 2018

The Cranston Fire was one of several wildland blazes that erupted on Wednesday in Riverside County, east of the city of Hemet, that authorities said appeared to have been ignited by the same suspect.

Homes burned as a fast-moving wildfire forced an entire Southern California mountain town to evacuate Wednesday, while tourists emptied from the heart of Yosemite National Park so firefighters could battle a growing blaze nearby. At that point, park rangers and fire crews will determine whether the area is safe enough to reopen.

The conflagration is one of about 75 major wildfires burning in the United States in an unusually active fire season that has already scorched about 3.98 million acres, mostly in western states. One firefighter was killed in the blaze July 14, and six others have been injured.

Firefighters battle the Ferguson fire on Sunday in Jerseydale, California.

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Heavy black smoke from the 41,500-acre wildfire, which broke out on July 13 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 170 miles east of San Francisco, prompted Yosemite park officials to shut the main visitor hub of Yosemite Valley as well as Wawona and Mariposa Grove.

The Ferguson fire has raged for almost two weeks, burning through over 57 square miles (148 square kilometers) of woods in the Sierra Nevada just west of the park.

Park spokesman Scott Gediman says the exodus was orderly and visitors are understanding of the decision to close. "This was purely for safety's sake".

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The closures include all campgrounds, hotels and visitor services in the areas.

At least 2,000 people visited the park Tuesday, park officials confirmed, adding that they would close Highway 41, which leads to the center of the popular park. Guests can get refunds for bookings inside the evacuation zone including Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Big Trees Lodge, Half Dome Village and Housekeeping Camp. Only August is busier.

We have a lot of global guests that have planned their route thru California to experience Yosemite National Park.

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.

From the edge of Tunnel View, they could hardly make out the mountains, which they said resembled ghost ships in the distance. Visitors are encouraged to check the park's website before travel.

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

"The reason why they're evacuating is because they're strategically, they're going to try to backfire that area and have the fire meet with the southeastern portion of the fire, so it's not because the fire is in the park".

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