The out-of-control Ferguson Fire has now burned more than 52 square miles, it’s about three miles from Old Yosemite Road, Pilot Ridge and the Tuolumne County line, and it is likely to burn into Yosemite National Park, public information staff assigned to the fire said Monday afternoon.
As of Monday evening, containment of the fire was estimated at 16 percent. Command staff now say more than 3,490 structures are threatened. One has been destroyed.
“For the northernmost edge of the fire it’s three miles from Old Yosemite Road and the county line,” Jim Mackensen, a retired firefighter from the Sacramento-Elk Grove area and information officer with the Ferguson Fire, said Monday.
If the fire continues burning north, command staff hope firefighters and aircraft can stop it at Pilot Ridge, where the southern edge of the 257,000-acre 2013 Rim Fire was halted nearly five years ago, Mackensen said.
“That’s our target right now,” Mackensen said. “Big picture is we want to keep it south of Pilot Ridge and we’re looking to tie that into Eagle Peak on the east side.”
Eagle Peak is due north of El Portal and west of Foresta. Command staff objectives include trying to keep the Ferguson Fire out of Yosemite, but they are resigned to the fact that they likely cannot do so.
“According to our fire behavior analysts, who run computer models to plan these things out, they say the fire is quite likely to get into the park at some point,” Mackensen said. “It’s 1.5 to 3 miles from getting into the park now. We do anticipate it is more likely than not to enter into the park.”
By comparison, a week ago the Ferguson Fire was five miles from the Yosemite National Park boundary just east of El Portal, said Rich Eagan, another information officer with the Ferguson Fire.
Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office plan to host a Ferguson Fire community meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Yosemite Valley Auditorium, 9035 Village Dr. in Yosemite Valley. Command staff plan to present an overview of the fire and what they’re doing to try to stop it.
The Ferguson Fire broke out the night of Friday, July 13 next to Highway 140 in the steep-sided Merced River Canyon and a Cal Fire bulldozer operator with the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit died when his rig overturned in a ravine the next day. In addition, six firefighters have been injured so far in the Ferguson Fire.
The blaze jumped Highway 140 and the Merced River on Friday and it’s now burning north into the Stanislaus National Forest toward the Tuolumne County line and Highway 120.
Command staff have asked for numerous aircraft and they have been using a pair of DC-10 tanker planes and a fleet of helicopters to try to slow the spread. As of Monday, there were more than 3,350 personnel assigned, including 91 crews of at least a dozen firefighters each, along with 194 engines, 46 water tanker trucks, 43 bulldozers and 16 helicopters.
Mandatory evacuations were in place Monday for areas including Old Yosemite Road, Anderson Valley, Yosemite West, Foresta, Yosemite View Lodge, Old El Portal, Rancheria Flat -- Government Housing, El Portal Trailer Court, Sweetwater Ridge, Savage’s Trading Post, Cedar Lodge/ Indian Flat Campground, Jerseydale/Mariposa Pines, and Incline Road from Foresta Bridge to the last BLM campground.
Drift smoke from the Ferguson Fire was less obvious Monday in Sonora than in recent days, when it fluctuated between unhealthy to very unhealthy as daytime highs peaked close to or exceeding triple digits.
Gary Stockel, the air pollution control officer for Tuolumne County, said Monday morning that air quality was expected to move from the moderate to unhealthy range with the worst air quality expected in the late afternoons. Conditions are expected to improve to the good range for most locations overnight.
“This general pattern will continue with this week’s predicted hot temperatures,” Stockel said. “Should fire behavior change significantly for the worse our local air quality conditions may also significantly worsen as a high pressure system settles in.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.