Yosemite announces visitor evacuation
Yosemite Valley will shut down Wednesday as fire crews try to stop the Ferguson Fire from spreading into the national park, according to fire crews.
A noon closure will be imposed on a portion of Highway 41 from Wawona to the tunnel entry into Yosemite Valley, according to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds.
The closure is expected to last until Sunday.
“Get yourself out of here if you can,” Reynolds told a group of evacuees, tourists and park employees inside the Yosemite Valley Auditorium on Tuesday morning.
Visitors in Yosemite Valley were being asked to evacuate as fears grew that Highway 41 would become “a very dangerous place,” Reynolds said. Food supplies were expected to diminish due to the closure on Highway 41.
Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said visitors at park campgrounds and hotels were allowed to stay Tuesday night and encouraged to leave by Wednesday morning.
“We’re going down to basic operations in the park,” Gediman said.
The Ferguson Fire has consumed 37,795 acres of wild land and is 26 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. A Cal Fire worker died fighting the fire and six other firefighters have been injured.
Fire crews have kept a 24-hour watch on the fire, according to Rocky Oplinger, from California Interagency Incident Management. He said the fire is moving aggressively through El Portal. Efforts are underway to preserve Yosemite, with plans to do a burnout operation and keep the fire from moving into Yosemite West.
“This is one of our biggest priorities, to make sure it doesn’t get into Yosemite West,” Oplinger said.
Wilderness areas of Yosemite National Park as well as the Highway 120 corridor were expected to remain open, Reynolds said.
He added there was a possibility Highway 120 would also close, but “the firefighters believe they are going to stop (the fire) well before that.”
Mariposa Grove just past the Highway 41 entrance to the park was being closed. Oplinger said firefighters are faced with limited options as they try to stop the fire.
The air quality has been a concern for fire and park officials. The air inside Yosemite Valley has been at hazardous levels for at least one hour a day in the past few days, Reynolds said. About 600 face masks were in stock, with more expected to arrive.
“The advice from health folks is, it’s OK to not be in it for too long,” Reynolds said about the air quality.
Sean Shay, 34, from Westminster in Southern California, arrived Monday to Yosemite and his family planned to celebrate his daughter’s 7th birthday. Shay said his 71-year-old father has had a tough time breathing in the smoky air.
“It was kind of half-expected, because the air quality being so bad from noon to 6 p.m.,” Shay said.
The Shays were hoping to stay in Yosemite until Friday, but were among the tourists now leaving from dangerous smoke and the threat of wildfire.
Shay said the family was traveling to Cambria to finish off their trip, adding that they planned on giving their daughter a cake at some point.
Reynolds said air scrubbers were being installed at Yosemite Valley buildings to purify the air and give employees space for fresh air. Among the buildings getting them were the Half Dome Pavilion, Half Dome Village Employee Heath and Wellness Center and Yosemite Valley School as well as the auditorium where Tuesday’s briefing was held.