Vegetation fires erupt in Yosemite and Merced County

Firefighters are battling three blazes in the region, including two in Merced County and one in Yosemite National Park.

The El Portal fire burned 2,100 acres by Sunday morning and was only 5 percent contained, fire officials reported. The Old El Portal and Foresta communities, along with the Crane Flat campground, have been evacuated.

Merced County Cal Fire Division Chief Mark Lawson said a fire that erupted in the area of Highway 140 and Howard Road, between Livingston and Stevinson, around 10:50 a.m. Saturday has grown to about 100 acres but is contained.

Another fire burning since about 3:30 p.m. Saturday near Hatfield State Recreation Area has ignited nearly 1,000 acres and was roughly 25 percent contained Sunday afternoon.

Though the Howard Road fire continues to burn in dense tule grass, Lawson said, firefighters have set up secure containment lines around it. “We’ve stopped the forward progress,” he said.

The blaze on River and Kelly roads near Hatfield Park is burning in an irregular, fingerlike pattern, he said, which can make it more difficult to contain.

Lawson said the high temperatures, low humidity and higher wind speeds are compounding the difficulty of fighting the fire in that area.

A Cal Fire crew from Mount Bullion and a bulldozer are assisting with the firefighting operation. State Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are also helping out.

No homeowners have been evacuated, no buildings have been burned and no roads have been closed as a result of those two fires.

Hatfield Park was evacuated for about two hours Saturday, Lawson said, but people were allowed to return to the park. Lawson said those driving through the area should take notice if firefighters are working nearby and use extra caution.

The El Portal fire claimed one building, and more structures are threatened, said Ashley Mayor, a Yosemite National Park spokeswoman.

Red Cross has set up evacuation sites at the Tenaya Lodge on Highway 41 and the Groveland Community Center on Highway 120.

By Sunday morning, 400 fire personnel from the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire were working on the El Portal fire, and more crews were expected to arrive throughout the day Sunday, Mayor said.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team, or a national or state-level emergency wildfire team, was expected to arrive Sunday, El Portal fire officials said.

Major road closures include Big Oak Road, which is a continuation of Highway 120, at the Highway 140 junction all the way up to the Crane Flat gas station.

Tioga Road is open and accessible from Mariposa by taking Highway 49 to Highway 120; however, it is not accessible from Merced or Fresno, fire officials said.

Residents or park visitors coming from the Merced and Fresno areas are encouraged to avoid Highways 41 and 140, which are expected to be extremely congested.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.