El Portal fire closes entrance to Yosemite

07/30/2014 5:57 PM

07/30/2014 5:58 PM

Yosemite visitors can no longer enter the national park via the Big Oak Flat entrance along Highway 120, which was closed shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday as firefighters continue to wrangle with the spreading El Portal fire.

Smaller fires burning around Merced County continue to burn themselves out under the supervision of fire crews, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials.

Fire officials said on Wednesday afternoon that the El Portal blaze, which has burned more than 3,500 acres, was burning up the Crane Creek drainage toward the Crane Flat Campground that was previously closed.

The last fire update, provided Wednesday morning, put the fire at 34 percent contained. There are about 864 personnel fighting the blaze – costing an estimated $3.15 million.

The closure of the Big Oak Flat entrance station extends the Big Oak Flat Road closure, which now runs from the park entrance to the road’s juncture with Highway 140. Tioga Road, the Highway 120 connector over the Sierra through Tuolumne Meadows, remains open from the east side – but motorists will have to turn around at the road’s end at Crane Flat, shortly after the Tuolumne grove, fire officials said.

The entrance to Hetch Hetchy from Highway 120 remains open.

Old El Portal – a small, mostly bedroom community along Highway 140 for Yosemite National Park employees – was evacuated early Sunday; residents were allowed to return Tuesday morning.

Up and over the hill in Foresta, a duplex and house that shared an address were destroyed on the first day of the fire. Foresta’s community of about 45 homes remains evacuated.

Merced County’s three fires are 100 percent contained, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn said, but one engine at each site will continue to eye the flames. “Through Friday we intend to do that,” he said. “Then we’ll have people do periodic patrols as long as conditions warrant it.”

A fire that broke out about 3:30 p.m. Saturday near Hatfield State Recreation Area has burned roughly 930 acres. The park remains open to visitors.

More than 105 firefighters have helped battle that blaze since Saturday, including firefighters from Merced, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties and the city of Newman.

The 225-acre fire burning about 5 miles southeast of Howard Road and Highway 140 is also completely contained. That fire was first reported about 11 a.m. Sunday and nearly 40 firefighters worked to snuff out the flames.

A fire burning since Thursday spread to more than 400 acres near Gun Club Road and Santa Fe Grade, between Gustine and Los Banos, but remains under containment.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report

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