Full containment of the Ferguson Fire is seemingly near, along with the reopening of many locations within Yosemite National Park.
The wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park was 83 percent contained as of Sunday, bringing the total burned acreage to 95,947, according to a news release.
Firefighters Sunday battled the fire near Elephant Rock, just a mile and a half west of Tunnel View, to ensure it doesn’t make its way into Yosemite Valley. Tom Efird, spokesperson for the Ferguson Fire unified, said the firing operations in that area have been successful.
“We do not believe Yosemite Valley is at any risk to be reached by the fire,” Efird said.
The National Park Service says Yosemite Valley will reopen to visitors 9 a.m. Tuesday and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias will reopen 9 a.m. Monday.
The expected return of visitors to the park bodes well both for the park itself and for the neighboring gateway communities. Last year, visitors spent a grand total of $165.9 million on lodging and food in Madera County, according to the 2017 California Travel Impacts Report.
Joshua Fritz, manager of the Happy Burger Diner in Mariposa, said the park closure has “absolutely gutted” their usual summer income. He estimated revenue had gone down 50 to 60 percent during the closure. He hopes the reopening can help recover what was lost.
“It’ll be slow to get back to normal. Hopefully these last few weeks of summer help us get back some of what we lost, but it’ll be slow to get back to normal,” Fritz said.
Casey Hawkins, co-owner of South Gate Brewing Company in Oakhurst, said the continued Highway 41 closure is especially worrying for businesses in Oakhurst. He said a majority of the town’s visitors travel through Highway 41 to get to Yosemite.
“We have got to get Highway 41 open as soon as possible. It’s essential for all of us foothill communities,” Hawkins said. He stressed how difficult this closure has been for his restaurant and other businesses in the area. He said the financial losses for his restaurant have been “significant, to say the least.”
But Hawkins said he is doing his best to remain positive. He commended the local community for being so supportive and helping out South Gate and other businesses in any way they could, including eating out more than usual.
“Our local community has really come out and supported us. They have really come together and made sure we’ve had business,” Hawkins said.
Fritz shared a similar sentiment about Mariposa, but added that while local attention has been helpful, businesses are still in need of the visitors they expect during the summer.
“The locals have been eating out a lot more than usual, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much to go around. Mariposa only has about 2,000 people and there are about eight or nine restaurants in town, and it just does not end up being enough,” Fritz said.
Efird said Aug. 15 remains the estimated date for full containment.
The only portion of the blaze that remains active is the area around Badger Pass and Elephant Rock. Firing operations will continue in those areas and firefighters have formed lines around spot fires for containment.
Jamie Richards, spokesperson for Yosemite National Park, said although the valley will be reopening, visitors should be mindful limited services will be available. She was unable to specify which services would be unavailable.
“It’s going to be a process. But we’re getting there,” Richards said. “We are going to provide as many services as possible. The valley has been closed for three weeks and it’s going to take some time to get everything up and running again.”
Yosemite Valley has been closed to visitors since July 25 due to the Ferguson Fire. This is the second longest closure in the history of the park, with the first being a two-and-a-half month closure in 1994 that was caused by a flood. Richards said the National Park Service is “really excited to reopen the Valley and welcome people back in.”
Visitors will be able to access Yosemite Valley from El Portal Road (Highway 140), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120), or Tioga Road (Highway 120). Wawona Road (Highway 41) will remain closed from Wawona to Yosemite Valley for at least another week due to ongoing fire activity and firefighter operations.
Last week, Kelly Martin, chief of fire and aviation for Yosemite National Park, predicted Wawona Road would be the final Yosemite Valley access road to open.
That prediction held true and Efird said this is due to the high number of dead trees along the road. Dead trees are extremely hazardous due to the trees’ probability of falling over.
Firefighter Brian Hughes was killed on July 29 when a dead tree fell and struck him during an operation on the east side of the blaze. Bulldozer operator Braden Varney was killed last month when his vehicle turned over.
No areas remain under evacuation order. The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department announced Yosemite West would be reopening Monday at 6 a.m. to visitors with reservations.
There were 1,142 personnel still fighting the Ferguson Fire as of Sunday morning. The fire has cost over $111 million to combat since it was sparked alive on July 13.
The Ferguson Fire was one of over a dozen fires active in California on Sunday. This year’s fires have nearly tripled the amount of acreage burnt by last year’s fires in this time span, according to Cal Fire.