A threat from the Ferguson Fire to Yosemite National Park still lingers, but firefighters continued their progress on the blaze overnight, reaching 43 percent containment — an increase of 5 percent from the prior day, fire officials said Tuesday.
Portions of the 93,331 acre fire burning near Foresta and Badger Pass could reach Yosemite Valley’s rim if they continue to burn north, said Kelly Martin, chief of fire and aviation for Yosemite National Park.
Firefighters are relying on the footprint of previous fires to help put out that portion before it reaches that far. Martin said fire suppression efforts in those areas have been complicated by steep terrain.
“This is a critical piece for us to keep this fire in check and from really becoming a long term fire,” said Mark von Tillow, incident commander for the Ferguson Fire unified command. He added firefighters were feeling confident about burnout operations being performed around the Big Oak Tunnel.
The National Park Service said Sunday closures within Yosemite National Park, including Yosemite Valley and Wawona, would continue indefinitely. Scott Gediman said the indefinite closure is a result of the combination of the closing of all roads leading into and out of Yosemite Valley, and hazardous smoke conditions in those areas.
The recent fire activity on Highway 41 led Martin to believe it would likely be the last road to open. She speculated El Portal Road would be open before Highway 41, which is closed from Chilnualna Falls Road to the tunnel entry into Yosemite Valley.
Gediman said the situation will be evaluated “day by day.”
But while those areas have complicated operations, others have fostered a sense of security about the fire’s containment.
On Tuesday, evacuations were lifted for Anderson Valley, Greeley Hill Area, Hall Gulch, and Old Yosemite.
Evacuation orders were also lifted for El Portal, Old El Portal, El Portal Trailer Court, Rancheria Flat government housing, Incline Road, River Road from Briceburg to Lake McClure and for residents along Highway 140 from Midpines to the Yosemite National Park entrance.
The continued repopulation trend began Monday when operations on the west side of the fire down Highway 41 toward Wawona were successful, allowing Wawona residents to return home.
The good news continued further on up north where von Tillow said they were able to connect containment lines northbound of the Merced Grove to the completed lines on the fire’s west.
“We feel good about this right now. We completed it yesterday, and we’ll probably contain this and have it (completed) on the map tomorrow,” von Tillow said.
On Monday afternoon, the progress in the north allowed fire officials to open up Tioga Road and a part of Highway 120 that includes and Big Oak Flat Road west of Crane Flat. The expected date for full containment of the Ferguson Fire is Aug. 15.
The Ferguson Fire has destroyed 10 structures in 25 days, but Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said it could have been worse were it not for Mariposa County’s preparedness.
“Residents are just more aware of firefighter safety. They know that they want firefighters to protect their homes, but it needs to be safe for firefighter personnel to ingress and egress,” Binnewies said.
There are still 995 structures threatened by the blaze.
Two firefighters have lost their lives fighting the Ferguson Fire and another 12 were injured. Fire officials said firefighter safety continues to be a priority in the battle against the blaze.
Firefighters claimed a small victory in Mariposa County on Tuesday when Cal Fire announced the Wagner Fire, burning east of Coulterville, was 100 percent contained at 22 acres.
California is well into one of its worst fire seasons in recent memory. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 5 of this year, 629,531 acres have burned throughout the entire state, according to CalFire.
The average acreage burned during that same interval for the past five years is 128, 587. Those figures are only from fires that Cal Fire has responded to.