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Fire Closes Yosemite Valley Indefinitely

Smoke and flames from the Ferguson Fire have closed the roads to the National Park’s most popular attraction at the height of tourist season

(USFS)
smithsonian.com

As fires rage across California, the National Park Service has closed large sections of Yosemite National Park indefinitely, including the popular Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove.

That’s because one of 18 major fires burning across the state, the Ferguson Fire, is impacting three major entrance roads into the park, and smoke is obscuring visibility in the area and making breathing difficult, reports Meredith Carey at Conde Nast Traveler.

"Over the past 48 hours, fire has impacted all of the roads used to access Yosemite Valley, burning dead and downed trees that can become very explosive and fall without warning,” the Park Service wrote in a statement issued on Sunday. “These hazards, along with extreme fire behavior and frequent weather changes, have made this an extremely difficult fire fight.”

While the majority of the park remains open, the closure of Yosemite Valley itself is a big hit since picturesque views of Half Dome and El Capitan are major draws to the park. In fact, the park first closed the area on July 25, hoping to reopen once the fire was under control reports Jorge Ortiz at USA Today. But the Ferguson Fire—like many other California blazes this summer fueled by hot weather, stiff winds and dry fuel—has been difficult to control and has torched 95,000 acres so far.

For surrounding towns and businesses, the fires and park closures have been a nightmare, since it is the height of tourist season when many hotels, restaurants and shops make most of their income. Yosemite is the fifth most visited National Park, drawing 4.4 million visitors to the region each year. Ortiz reports that in many areas hotel bookings are down by half and many businesses have seen a 75 percent drop in sales.

One of those closed routes is Highway 140, a main artery into the park that passes through Mariposa on the way to Yosemite Valley. “The closure of Highway 140 is a big deal,” Tara Schiff, economic development specialist for Mariposa County tells Ortiz. “We don’t know when it’s going to open again, and I know many of the merchants are watching Caltrans very anxiously, and telling me that if it doesn’t open soon, they may not be in business for long.”

This blaze comes on the heel of two other natural disasters that recently impacted the western edge of Yosemite. Last summer the Detwiler Fire burned over 80,000 acres in Mariposa County, filling the Yosemite Valley with smoke, closing access roads and forcing the evacuation of the town of Mariposa for a week. In March, flash floods killed two people in the area, caused the closure of Highway 49 and threatened to burst the Moccasin Dam.

Hopefully, the fire will soon be extinguished. According to recent update from the Sierra National Forest, the Ferguson Fire is 68 percent contained with 1,889 firefighters and support crew working to control the blaze.

Yosemite is not alone in facing threats from wildfires, not by a longshot. Jonathan J. Cooper and Paul Elias at the AP report that 18 fires are currently burning across the state. Right now, 14,000 firefighters along with trained prisoners and volunteers from Australia and New Zealand are combating the blazes. They’re supported by 1,000 fire trucks, 59 bulldozers, 22 airtankers, as well as helicopters and air planes.

The AP reports that the worst months for wildfire are still ahead, meaning 2018 could be California’s worst wildfire season in history unless conditions change soon.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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