Tony Krizan

Ferguson Fire keeps from enjoying the mountains – for now. But what trails will it reveal?

A trail long choked off by overgrowth crosses the South Fork of the Merced River near Hites Cove.
A trail long choked off by overgrowth crosses the South Fork of the Merced River near Hites Cove.

For decades most of us have enjoyed the pristine beauty of the mountains surrounding Yosemite National Park. Today, are we witnessing a national weather change? This cycle first started with five years of drought, followed by the infestation of the bark beetle. From this first stage the county of Madera lost over 98 percent of its pine and cedar trees. We were not the only county in California to be affected, but the entire state suffered. Two years later our mountains displayed not green forests, but the golden brown of dead or dying trees.

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In 2018 we experienced higher-than-normal temperatures – and even a few degrees affects the growing cycles of our wilderness forests. Since July 13, the Ferguson Fire that started off of Highway 140 around historic Savage Trading Post has consumed over 56,000 acres and still burning.

This out-of-control burn first raised its ugly head starting in Mariposa County affecting the Cedar Lodge Zone along the Highway 140 corridor to the northwest. Surprisingly, this fast-moving fire also affected the Jerseydale Mariposa Pines Zone to the southwest. To the north, the Old El Portal Zone and so far the fire break protecting the subdivision of Yosemite West along Highway 41 (Wawona Road) is holding. Thanks to the efforts of our firefighters, this out-of-control burn has been somewhat controlled. It’s very difficult to fight a fire traveling through a nonaccessible wilderness area which hasn’t burned since the 1920s. Even our historic Yosemite National Park is closed due to the heavy smoke generated by this fire.

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An old Indian trail snakes through the thick underbrush of the Merced River canyon.

Often, the fire has exploded overnight consuming over 1,500 acres before daylight. My hometown of Oakhurst is covered with a thick layer of smoke every morning. Our mountains surrounding this valley have disappeared consumed by this unwelcomed intruder. For those of us who enjoy the outdoors, we are now suffering from cabin fever. This unhealthy air lingers until the winds change directions and clears our valley.

From the latest information; Yosemite has a target date of Aug. 5 to reopen. And full containment of this Ferguson Fire is estimated for Aug. 15.

I say with all respect: special thanks to all those who offer their time and knowledge fighting this out-of-control blaze. I especially thank those firefighters putting themselves in harm’s way just to keep us safe from this inferno.

At this point I’m waiting until this fire is contained before starting a new adventure hiking those trails that provided past memories. One historic trail should be exposed after decades of overgrowth. This old Indian trail follows from Alder Creek at Highway 41, and then follows the South Fork of the Merced River to the Savage Trading Post along Highway 140. I tried completing this hike over a decade ago but the ground cover was much too thick with poison oak to complete. I’m interested to see if the fire opened this route. This should be another interesting story to share from Yosemite’s forgotten past.