Firefighters slow advance of Ferguson Fire, now 57,846 acres

Watch 14 days of wildfire smoke cover California

From July 25 through August 7 California has been covered with smoke from wildfires visible from space in these NASA images.
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From July 25 through August 7 California has been covered with smoke from wildfires visible from space in these NASA images.

Firefighters working in high heat and rough terrain slowed the advance of the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park, with only 805 acres burning overnight, authorities reported Tuesday morning.

In comparison, last week the fire grew over 5,000 acres on three separate days each.

Firefighters are continuing backfiring operations along Highway 41 near Wawona.

Michelle Eidam, spokesperson for the unified agencies fighting the fire, said the goal is to eventually connect the containment line along Highway 41 to a line along Roundtree Saddle and Chowchilla Mountain Road. This would help contain the fire along the eastern and southern fronts. Eidam said they are hoping to have the lines connected in two days.

“A lot of stuff has to happen for these operations to go as planned. The weather conditions have to be right, the equipment has to be right,” Eidam said.

A similar plan is in place for the northern side of the blaze. Firefighters are hoping to connect containment lines northbound of the Merced Grove along Pilot Peak and Pilot Ridge.

For another day, residents were told to expect increased smoke and reduced air quality.

Yosemite National Park will remain closed until at least Aug. 5 due to the unhealthy air quality and ongoing firefighting operations, the National Park Service announced via news release. Yosemite Valley and Wawona have been closed to visitors since July 25, and park officials had previously hoped to have it open by Aug. 3.

“Yosemite National Park continues to work closely with the Incident Management Team and continues to assess park conditions daily,” the news release read.

The fire has been been costly, in terms of firefighter lives and injuries. Brian Hughes, 33-year-old captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots, died fighting the Ferguson Fire when a tree struck him on Sunday. Hughes was honored at a media briefing on Monday. A memorial service has not yet been set. Firefighter Braden Varney died July 14 when his bulldozer overturned.

Eight firefighters have been hurt, and the fire has cost $64.3 million since July 13, the day it was sparked.

The blaze, which has consumed 57,846 acres, is one-third contained with total containment expected by Aug. 15.

Firefighters are monitoring a portion of the fire that slipped over a containment line about a mile southeast of El Portal. There, the fire is raging in steep terrain with a large number of trees damaged by bark beetles making access difficult. Crews are using water and fire retardant to keep the blaze within containment boundaries, with Eidam adding that “significant” fire resources are being used to control the spot fire.

“It’s a known that there are going to be spot fires. It’s just a part of the process and firefighters are working hard to control it,” Eidam said.

There were 3,658 firefighters assigned to the Ferguson Fire as of Tuesday morning, 128 less than there were Monday morning.

Eidam said this is expected due to a pair of factors: firefighters from other departments have had to return to their local departments or are needed at one of the other fires in in the country, of which there are more than 60.

Eidam said the fluctuation in personnel should not affect the efforts against the Ferguson Fire. “We still have the adequate resources to fight this fire,” she said.

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