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Ferguson Fire balloons in size, danger to structures and cost. Blaze two miles from Yosemite

Joshua Tree National Park Resource Advisors Stephen Hodges, left, and Brad Winckelmann, right, consult a map of the Ferguson Fire and the surrounding area while working to mitigate impacts to cultural and biological resources in Midpines, Calif., on Saturday, July 21, 2018.
Joshua Tree National Park Resource Advisors Stephen Hodges, left, and Brad Winckelmann, right, consult a map of the Ferguson Fire and the surrounding area while working to mitigate impacts to cultural and biological resources in Midpines, Calif., on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Merced Sun-Star

With the Ferguson Fire now threatening more than 3,000 structures, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson said the communities of El Portal and Foresta are now in the most danger of structural damage.

Jim Mackensen, U.S. Forest Service spokesperson, said the unified command of the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department is investing as many resources as possible to prevent the fire from reaching El Portal and Foresta. The fire began on July 13 near El Portal.

While the fire continues to expand, the cost of trying to contain it does as well. Mackensen said battling the fire has cost $24.7 million as of Monday.

He said steep terrain in that region of the blaze has complicated firefighters’ efforts. Six firefighters have been injured and Braden Varney died when his bulldozer overturned. A celebration of Varney’s life took place Monday morning in Modesto.

“This operation would usually take less than a day, but the steep terrain has allowed the operation to go well over a week,” Mackensen said. Even with these struggles, Mackensen said no communities are in critical danger of being affected by the fire.

Another area sparking concern is Yosemite National Park. Mackensen said the fire is about two miles away from the park’s west side boundary. He said there is no way to predict if or when the fire could reach it or any other location.

FireMap2.jpg
A map shows the location of the Ferguson Fire as of Monday, July 23. Courtesy of Ferguson Fire unified command

“It’s impossible for me to even guess, it’s totally dependent on the weather conditions. The wind could pick up and bring this fire to life,” Mackensen said. Weather forecasts are predicting hotter and drier weather in the coming days, according to an update from the unified command.

As of Monday evening, the blaze had burned 36,102 acres and was 16 percent contained, threatening 3,494 structures and destroying one structure. The building that burned down was nonresidential, and Mackensen said the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department was still gathering details on the building.

There are currently 3,311 personnel assigned to the fire, which includes 194 engines, 45 water tenders, 16 helicopters, 91 crews, and 52 bulldozers.

The park remains open, but Highway 140 through the Merced River canyon (and near where the fire started July 13) is closed. Highways 41 and 120 are open to the park. Yosemite West, Yosemite View Lodge and and Old Yosemite Road have all been issued a mandatory evacuation notice.

Mandatory evacuations are also in place for El Portal Trailer Court, Incline Road from Clearing House to the last BLM campground, Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Cedar Lodge, Indian Flat Campground, Savage’s Trading Post, Sweetwater Ridge, El Portal Trailer Court, Rancheria Flat, Old El Portal and Foresta.

An evacuation center is located at a Red Cross Shelter at New Life Christian Fellowship at 5089 Cole Road in Mariposa.

Mackensen said firefighters will need to continue to rely on building lines and existing fire breaks due to the inaccessible areas that the fire is stretching into.

Firefighters were unable to stop it from spreading into the Stanislaus Forest area. They are now trying to build lines in the Montgomery Gulch area.

Authorities said forecasts of hotter and drier air this week are a cause for concern because of the potential for extreme fire weather.

Authorities also issued an evacuation advisory for:

  • Lushmeadows Community
  • Ponderosa Basin Community
  • Triangle Road from Jerseydale Road to Highway 49 South including all side roads.
  • Darrah Road from Triangle to Sherrod Road.
  • East side of Highway 49 South from Darrah Road to Harris Road, which includes Boyer Road, Woodland Area, Wass Road, Tip Top Road.

A community meeting is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Yosemite Valley Auditorium, 9035 Village Drive in the park.

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