The out-of-control Ferguson Fire that’s burning up more than 33 square miles of Merced River Canyon and sending smoke and very unhealthy air quality to the Mother Lode prompted more mandatory evacuations Thursday, this time in the El Portal area.
“Please evacuate as soon as possible,” Mariposa County sheriff’s staff said in a 3 p.m. joint announcement with Cal Fire, the Forest Service and the National Park Service.
The mandatory evacuation order was for the El Portal Trailer Court, established in 1958 on federal land in the NPS Administrative Area located between Highway 140 and the Merced River in El Portal.
It’s about 2.5 miles from the El Portal entrance to Yosemite National Park, Rich Eagan, a public information officer for the Ferguson Fire, said in a phone interview speaking from Ahwahnee.
Residents were reminded that Highway 140 West to Mariposa remains closed and evacuees were told to use Highway 140 East into Yosemite Valley to exit the area.
Eagan said sheriff’s deputies went in first to advise residents ahead of the order and from what he understood the evacuation went smoothly.
Some people may have received text messages or recorded phone advisories in advance of the evacuation.
A Red Cross evacuation shelter was set up at New Life Christian Church, 5089 Cole Road in Mariposa.
No new injuries to civilians or firefighters were reported Thursday, Eagan said.
Chances for thunderstorms Thursday and later this week were a concern for fire crews because they can produce erratic winds, causing the fire to change direction quickly and unexpectedly. Ferguson Fire command staff warned this is especially dangerous for firefighters working on building indirect containment lines, because sudden wind shifts can cause fuel between them and existing firelines to explode into flames.
The Ferguson Fire broke out the night of July 13 next to Highway 140 west of El Portal and it’s been burning south and east up into steep reaches and drainages with mixed oak woodland down low, belts of dense, flammable chaparral, and pockets of beetle-killed heavier timber up higher.
A Cal Fire bulldozer operator was killed on Saturday. Two other firefighters have been injured. As of Thursday morning, the Ferguson Fire had burned more than 21,500 acres and it was considered 7 percent contained. The fire threatens more than 100 structures.
More than 2,700 personnel were assigned to the Ferguson Fire as of Thursday evening.
Other areas under mandatory evacuation included Incline Road from Foresta Bridge to the last Bureau of Land Management campground, Jerseydale/ Mariposa Pines, Cedar Lodge/Indian Flat campground, Savage’s Trading Post and Sweetwater Ridge. Numerous other communities were under evacuation advisories in case conditions worsen.
Agencies assigned to the fire included the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the state Office of Emergency Services, the California Highway Patrol; Caltrans, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the American Red Cross, the California Conservation Corps, BLM and others.
Community meetings are scheduled at 3 p.m. Friday at Wawona Community Center in Wawona and at 6:30 p.m. Friday Mariposa County Fairgrounds in Mariposa.
Incident commanders are still investigating the cause of the Ferguson Fire. Cal Fire is investigating the death of 36-year-old Braden Varney, a heavy fire equipment operator with the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, who was killed Saturday.
Staff with the Tuolumne County Public Health Department issued an update to an air quality health alert on Thursday afternoon. They said smoke drift and smoke accumulation from the Ferguson Fire has rendered air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups in some areas and unhealthy to very unhealthy in other areas for everyone in parts of Tuolumne County.
Residents seeking relief from heat and smoke can go to the following buildings during normal business hours:
• Tuolumne County Main Library at 480 Greenley Road in Sonora. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Phone: 533-5507
• Groveland Library at 18990 Highway 120 in Groveland. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Phone: 962-6144
• Tuolumne City Library at 18636 Main St. in Tuolumne. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Phone: 928-3612
• Twain Harte Library at 18701 Tiffeni Drive #1F in Twain Harte. Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Phone: 586-4501
• Tuolumne County Senior Center at 540 Greenley Road in Sonora. Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone: 533-2622
Yosemite National Park remains open. For more information from the park, call (209) 372-0200.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.