Dual infernos inside one of America’s most iconic destinations have continued to grow and pump smoke into the skies, sometimes leaving haze across its majestic vistas.
The South Fork Fire, burning east of Wawona inside Yosemite National Park, was reported at 6,250 acres and 44% contained Wednesday evening. The Empire Fire, burning to the north of that blaze, near Glacier Point Road, was at 4,150 acres.
Officials said the north flank of the South Fork Fire was the most active as it burned into pockets of fuel. The southern flank, near the Merced River, and western portion near Wawona - where evacuations were previously ordered - were both contained. Smoke and glowing embers will still be seen through the night, officials said.
The cause of the South Fork Fire, which started Aug. 13, is under investigation.
The Empire Fire, started by lightning July 31, was being allowed to burn naturally in a fire-adapted wilderness to help improve ecosystems, officials said.
Jamie Richards, a spokeswoman for the park, said strong progress is being made.
“Our fire teams are very pleased with the behaviors of these fires,” Richards said, noting both were moving into the wilderness to the east, with no threatened structures. “This is the behavior they anticipated, and it’s going very well.”
Glacier Point Road remained closed, Richards said.
She added the only remaining closures in the park, as a result of the Empire and South Fork Fires, were on that road and at Bridalveil Campground and some trails in the area. She said the Wawona Golf Course, Big Trees Lodge (formerly Ahwahnee Hotel), and other campsites were open. All closures had no anticipated reopening date.
Richards made sure to add that Yosemite was still open, and despite the Railroad Fire’s rapid growth in Fish Camp into Thursday keeping the park’s southern gate on Highway 41 closed, all other entrances were open.
“Yosemite National Park is still open, it’s still busy, and we’re still receiving visitors,” Richards said, noting a busy Labor Day weekend was still expected. “There are no anticipated changes to these fires or other things that will impact anyone’s visit.”
Smoky skies sometimes linger in areas like Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and at other iconic sites. Additional smoke from the Railroad Fire can be seen in Wawona, but wind conditions regularly change. Those with sensitivity to smoky conditions are advised to consult with their physicians, and remain inside with the windows closed. Smoke is typically strongest in the mornings, officials said, and clears from the afternoon into the evening.
For more information on the South Fork Fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5502/.