ENVIRONMENT

Deadly Ferguson Fire Threatens Yosemite National Park Communities

The steep terrain is posing a serious challenge to firefighters.

A wildfire near Yosemite National Park is expected to grow worse in the coming days as firefighters go up against blaze-fueling weather conditions.

California’s Ferguson fire started Friday night and remained just 5 percent contained as of Tuesday morning as it continued to move east and south, threatening several communities and burning more than 12,000 acres

Because the burning terrain is so precipitous and lined with tinder-dry vegetation from years of drought and fires, firefighters have to be incredibly careful in their approach, officials say. 

“Due to the steep, rugged terrain, the volatility of the vegetation, the hazard trees, the mortality, firefighters are just simply not able to fight this fire directly,” U.S. Forest Service fire behavior analyst Taro Pusina explained in an update Monday morning. “It’s too dangerous. So they’re looking at indirect fire attack methods where they’re using roads out in front of it with anticipation of burning those out to secure your communities.”

Those conditions have already claimed the life of one heavy equipment operator with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire. Braden Varney, 36, died on the job Saturday when his bulldozer flipped into a steep ravine near El Portal, a town southwest of Yosemite Village. 

No other deaths or injuries have been reported, though several communities remain under mandatory evacuation orders. 

The possibility of thunderstorms on Wednesday may create new challenges, as unpredictable winds may change the path of the flames.

Fire officials have had their hands full this month as heat waves have fueled multiple major fires at once, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for multiple counties.

Yosemite region dwellers are no strangers to gargantuan blazes. This time last year, gunfire sparked the massive Detwiler fire near Yosemite that took weeks to contain and burned more than 80,000 acres. 

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