Railroad Fire erupts near Yosemite, closes Highway 41, forces evacuations

A blaze in Fish Camp shortly south of Yosemite National Park, reported around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, exploded to an estimated 1,000 acres in less than five hours, and was 0 percent contained. Officials estimated it has the potential to scorch as much as 5,000 acres in the area.

Evacuations and the closure of Highway 41 were quickly ordered as the Railroad Fire rapidly grew towards the park throughout the afternoon, burning at least three houses or cabins while threatening many more.

Highway 41 closures shifted a few times since they were first established near Tenaya Lodge around 12:40 p.m. As of 4:30 p.m., the highway was closed in Cedar Valley to the south, at Road 630. That means there is no entry to the park via Highway 41.

By 1 p.m., Narrow Gauge Inn and the communities of Sugar Pine and Sugar Pine Camp had been completely evacuated.

Shortly before 2:15 p.m., authorities prepared to request evacuation of Tenaya Lodge. Around 30 minutes later, mandatory evacuations were issued for the resort, and later put in place for the entire Fish Camp area, as the flames continued to creep towards the small community.

All evacuees were being directed to go through Yosemite instead of to the south, as flames reportedly surrounded portions of Highway 41.

Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs) were repeatedly requested to support air attack and ground crews, but several of those requests were denied during the afternoon, per scanner reports.

Daniel Tune, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said by Tuesday evening 200 personnel were assigned to the blaze, with 15 engines, four hand crews, three bulldozers, three helicopters, and 10 air tankers.

Forestry officials said as of 6:30 p.m., the Narrow Gauge Inn, Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, and Tenaya Lodge were still standing.

An evacuation center was set up by the American Red Cross at Oakhurst Community Center, and it opened around 3 p.m. Another shelter opened at 5:45 p.m. at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, according to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire was first reported near Highway 41 and Mill Canyon Road in Fish Camp, near Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

The blaze started to the west side of Highway 41, and was spreading to the east and north. Air attack crews were overhead earlier in the afternoon to make retardant and water drops, and remained overhead by 3 p.m. Reportedly, some air attack teams were having trouble on the fire’s eastern flank due to smoke impacting their visibility.

Some air resources were reportedly being diverted from the South Fork and Empire fires in Yosemite National Park.

Per the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, for more information on the Railroad Fire, anyone can text “Railroadfire” to 888777.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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