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Second firefighter killed fighting Ferguson Fire, officials confirm

Smoke from the nearby Ferguson Fire fills the air in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, on Saturday, July 28, 2018. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Ferguson fire is more than 49,000 acres and 29 percent contained.
Smoke from the nearby Ferguson Fire fills the air in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, on Saturday, July 28, 2018. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Ferguson fire is more than 49,000 acres and 29 percent contained. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

A second firefighter has died fighting the Ferguson Fire, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Sunday afternoon.

The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park firefighter, identified as 33-years old Brian Hughes, was near the north side of the fire on the Sierra National Forest side when the incident happened.

The firefighter was in an area where there were many dead trees, when one of those trees fell and struck him, said Jacob Welsh, spokesperson for the unified agencies fighting the fire.

Jim Mackensen, spokesperson for the U.S. Forestry Service, said the accident was reported around 11 a.m. Sunday. The firefighter was treated on the scene, but died before he could be taken to a hospital, according to a Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks news release.

A procession transporting the firefighter’s body from Mariposa County to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office in Modesto happened Sunday afternoon.

This is the second firefighter to die in efforts battling the 53,646-acre blaze. Earlier this month, 36-year-old bulldozer operator Braden Varney, was killed after his vehicle turned over; seven others have suffered injuries while fighting the fire.

Crews work to clear brush along Highway 41 in Yosemite National Park on Saturday, July 28, 2018. According to U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Tim Jones, the Ferguson Fire has consumed 49,619 acres and is 29 percent contained.

The number of personnel battling the 53,646-acre Ferguson Fire has remained consistent, even with more than a dozen wildfires raging throughout California as of Sunday, fire officials say.

The Carr Fire near Redding, which has claimed the lives of six people since it was sparked by a vehicle malfunction on July 24, has roughly 3,400 firefighters assigned to it as of Sunday morning. The Ferguson Fire has more than 3,000 fire personnel fighting the blaze, which started July 13.

Richard Eagan, a spokesperson for the Chula Vista Fire Department, said the massive 89,000-acre Carr Fire fire has not affected the amount of personnel available to fight the Ferguson Fire.

“I know that’s kind of been a rumor floating around, but we’re really not losing any personnel here,” Eagan said.

Residents can expect to see more smoke, and air quality is likely to get worse as firefighters work toward eventual full containment. Officials said Saturday night they had contained a spot fire south of El Portal caused by swirling winds.

Air quality in Yosemite Village and Wawona ranged between very unhealthy and unhealthy Sunday, and that’s expected to continue Monday. Meanwhile, the air quality in Fresno is expected to remain moderate during those days. Yosemite Valley was closed to tourists July 25, and the closure is expected to remain until Aug. 3.

Fire crews have managed to bring the fire to 30 percent containment and officials estimate that they will have full containment by Aug. 15.

Eagan said that while this is only an estimate, in his more than 28 years with the Chula Vista Fire Department those estimates have usually been “pretty accurate.”

The growth of the Ferguson Fire was expected, according to an official from the U.S. Forest Service who spoke to residents in Mariposa on Thursday.

Firefighters have sought to stay ahead of the fire and grow containment lines in areas that have been more accessible.

Steep terrain has been a huge problem in the northern and southern portions of the fire, Eagan said. Anderson Valley in the Stanislaus National Forest is especially troublesome because it contains a lot of brush and timber that has not burned, meaning more fuel for the fire.

So far, only one structure has been damaged or destroyed. According to a Saturday evening update by the Forest Service, fire crews continue to maintain a presence in areas where homes are located to make sure none catch fire.

“We don’t really have any significant structural threat with this incident,” Eagan said.

Eagan said that backfiring operations would begin Sunday on Highway 41 and could take up to four or five days. He added that Wawona Road (Highway 41) between Chilnualna Falls Road would remain closed throughout these operations to make sure the firefighting equipment can move in and out smoothly. This portion of the highway will remain closed until Aug. 3 at 4 p.m.

The fire started July 13 in the Merced River Canyon and a cause is under investigation. One firefighter, 36-year-old bulldozer operator Braden Varney, was killed; seven others have suffered injuries.

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Evacuations and fire advisories remain for more than a dozen Yosemite-area communities threatened, including Anderson Valley, Old El Portal, Ponderosa Basin and Yosemite West.

Highway 140 is closed from the entrance of Yosemite National Park to 1.5 miles east of Midpines.

More than 4,000 people were evacuated in the wake of the Ferguson Fire.

Officials have slowly announced the lifting of evacuations but have kept several areas under close watch.

An evacuation center for people and pets is located at Mariposa Elementary School, 5044 Jones Street.

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Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez
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