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‘There’s still a lot of work to be done.’ Ferguson Fire full containment date moved up

Yosemite National Park area still smoky from Ferguson Fire

While still slightly smoky, some areas in Yosemite National Park opened back up to visitors this week. The Ferguson Fire was 86 percent contained as of Tuesday, Aug, 14, 2018.
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While still slightly smoky, some areas in Yosemite National Park opened back up to visitors this week. The Ferguson Fire was 86 percent contained as of Tuesday, Aug, 14, 2018.

The Ferguson Fire is inching toward its end,  contained by 87 percent as of Wednesday, though firefighters say full containment won’t be soon as expected.

Fire officials changed the expected date for full containment to Aug. 22. They previously predicted it would be contained by Wednesday.

Battling the month-old wildfire has cost $113.9 million as of Wednesday, said Tom Efird, spokesperson for the Ferguson Fire unified command. With up to a week left in the fire’s lifespan, that figure’s expected to grow.

The only portion of the fire still active is in the northeast near Elephant Rock and Big Oak Tunnel. The fire has burned 96,810 acres within and near Mariposa County.

“Even though we’ve just about tied the line up near Elephant Rock, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make Wawona Road safe,” Efird said. The delay was also the result of making sure firefighters have ample time to contain the fire without rushing any operations, he added.

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Wawona Road (Highway 41) is the only road leading into Yosemite Valley that remains closed. The valley, along with Wawona and the Maripose Grove of Giant Sequoias, was opened to visitors for the first time in three weeks Monday and Tuesday. The Yosemite National Park’s tourist attractions were all closed July 25 due to the danger posed by the blaze.

Yosemite’s closures through late July and early August hit the park’s revenues during “the busiest time of the year,” said Scott Gediman, park spokesman. 

Likewise, Yosemite’s neighboring gateway communities and businesses were also negatively impacted. While the reopening of Yosemite Valley means more visitors for many of the park’s gateway communities, Oakhurst is still being greatly affected by another closure.

Anyone trying to get to the valley from the south will need to reroute and use Highway 140 instead of the usual Highway 41, detouring potential visitors away from Oakhurst.

“When it comes to loss of tourism, we naturally know it affects dining, shopping and hotels. What we don’t always think about are ancillary businesses that are also impacted. A tourist may want a massage a facial, or some other ‘experience’ based activity,” said Melanie Barker, president of the Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce.

“Many of those businesses have strong local clientele, and they also count on some bonus money that comes from the tourist activity,”

While Highway 41 into the Yosemite Valley is closed, the highway’s southern entrance into the park itself is open and visitors can access Mariposa Grove and Wawona when entering through there.

Barker encouraged potential visitors to visit the communities located near the southern entrance and highlighted leisure opportunities near Oakhurst, like Bass Lake. She also hoped the improved air quality helps attract more people to the town.

Pat Campi, owner of Donuts A Go Go in Mariposa, said not much has changed in Mariposa a day into the valley’s reopening. “We haven’t had an impact as of yet. There’s definitely more people driving through Mariposa, but not many are stopping,” Campi said. She reported losing 60 to 70 percent in revenue during the closure.

Dave D’Esposito, owner of Shortstop Sandwiches in Mariposa, echoed Campi’s experience, but is hopeful business will return gradually.

“I think it won’t be until a couple of weeks that business will really come back to normal. I’m just looking forward to the September and October months,” D’Esposito said.

Through the #YosemiteNow campaign, the gateway communities are using social media to showcase that the park is open and conditions are favorable, said Laura Wattles, communications manager for the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.

The bureau is encouraging visitors to use the hashtag #YosemiteNow on social media posts to show their followers what they can expect from the newly-reopened areas of the park.

The cost of the structural damage from the fire is pending on the analysis of a damage assessment team, Efird said. The fire has burned down 10 structures.

There are 826 personnel still assigned to the Ferguson Fire. Two firefighters died fighting the blaze.

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