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Firefighters gaining ground on Ferguson Fire, though problem areas remain

Yosemite announces visitor evacuation

Yosemite National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds announces the closure of Highway 41 and a visitor evacuation due to Ferguson Fire during meeting in Yosemite Valley Tuesday.
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Yosemite National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds announces the closure of Highway 41 and a visitor evacuation due to Ferguson Fire during meeting in Yosemite Valley Tuesday.

The Ferguson Fire continued to grow Monday, reaching 56,659 acres, but fire officials say progress is being made on numerous fronts.

Jacob Welsh, a spokesperson for the unified command fighting the fire, said the majority of the firefighters’ success has been on the western portion of the fire. The lines from the Jerseydale area through the Merced River have been holding well.

Areas in the southern portion including Triangle Park Road and the East Westfall Zone have had their evacuation advisories and orders lifted, respectively. Evacuation orders were lifted Monday for the Ponderosa Basin and Highway 140 corridor.

“We feel with the presence of all the firefighters and the security of the containment lines that we will be able to keep the fire out of those residential areas,” Welsh said.

The northern area of the fire in the Stanislaus National Forest is not breeding as much confidence, but there is a plan in place to eventually control the fire.

Welsh said containment lines have been made along Merced Grove, where tactical firing operations have already begun. Tactical firing is a process in which a region that the fire is heading toward is burned intentionally, so there is no fuel left for the wildfire to burn.

Crews work to clear brush along Highway 41 in Yosemite National Park on Saturday, July 28, 2018. According to U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Tim Jones, the Ferguson Fire has consumed 49,619 acres and is 29 percent contained.

The Ferguson Fire has been a costly battle, in terms of lives and injured firefighters. Bulldozer operator Braden Varney, 36, died earlier this month when his bulldozer overturned. On Sunday, 33-year-old firefighter Brian Hughes died when a dead tree struck him.

Seven firefighters have been hurt. “We’re doing all we can to keep our firefighters safe,” Welsh said.

The total cost of fighting the blaze, since it broke out July 13, is $59.5 million.

Tactical firing operations were taking place Monday along Highway 41 and in Ponderosa Basin. Welsh said it could be another three or four days before operations on Highway 41 are complete.

This fire has called for the usage of many indirect lines, Welsh said. This means firefighters must allow the fire to grow to an area where it is safe to fight it.

The team of over 3,700 personnel has the fire 30 percent contained.

Safety has been especially concerning along the south end of the fire near the Chowchilla Mountains, where the steep terrain compounded with spot fires has made it difficult for firefighters to make progress.

Welsh said the Ferguson Fire is one of 63 uncontained fires across the country, which has called upon the service of over 26,000 firefighters— 11,000 of which are in California.

“This is an all hands on deck situation,” he said.

Reporter Larry Valenzuela contributed to this report.
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