Some California residents were under evacuation orders Tuesday as the menacing Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park continued to spread and temperatures continued to soar.
The fire is burning through more than 20 square miles of trees and brush in rugged terrain west of Yosemite near the El Portal area. The terrain is so rough that firefighters needed until Monday afternoon to retrieve the body of firefighter Braden Varney, 36, a married father of two, who was killed Saturday when his bulldozer rolled over. Two other firefighters were injured battling the blaze.
“The fire continues to spread south and east toward Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines and Yosemite West," Cal Fire said. “Very steep terrain makes it difficult to insert crews in certain areas of the fire.”
The fire, which is 5 percent contained, has charred more than 13,000 acres as of Tuesday evening.
Evacuations were ordered late Monday for the Incline Road, Jerseydale and Mariposa areas, and a much larger area is under a pre-evacuation warning. More than 100 structures are threatened, but none so far has been destroyed or damaged.
Temperatures in the area are forecast to reach nearly 100 degrees on Tuesday, creating conditions under which the fire could grow rapidly – and Wednesday is forecast to be even hotter. An inversion, which keeps clouds and smoke low, has hampered the efforts of firefighting aircraft.
In Yosemite, a 2-mile section of State Route 140 was shut down as firefighters worked to form a fire line along the highway. The park remained open, but visitors were flagged with warnings. Fire officials had not determined the cause of the blaze that began burning Friday night. Smoke is dirtying air hundreds of miles to the east.
"Due to the road closure on Highway 140, expect long wait times on Highway 41 at the south entrance to Yosemite National Park," the park said on Twitter on Monday, adding that "visitors who are sensitive to smoke should plan to limit any strenuous outdoor activities or plan to visit the park another time."
UCLA climatologist Daniel Swain warned that the fire is "likely to burn for many days and may eventually become a major threat" to the 1,200-square-mile park in the Sierra Nevada.
Time-lapse video by the Yosemite Conservancy showed billowing smoke completely obscuring Half Dome, one of the park's iconic rock formation. Park webcams also showed other landmarks, such as El Capitan, concealed by thick smoke.
Businesses along the highway in Mariposa, a town popular with park visitors, have felt an impact.
Gopal Das, owner of a Quality Inn, said at least 50 people have called to cancel their reservations since Sunday.
“We’ll lose that revenue,” Das said. “Since it’s a fire hazard, it is something beyond everybody’s control, and that means we won’t be able to charge them for late cancellations. It could result in thousands of dollars in losses.”
More than 1 million acres across the country are part of active wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. More than 3.4 million acres have been burned so far this year, slightly ahead of the national average over the past decade for this time of year.
Contributing: John Bacon, Doyle Rice; The Associated Press