Firefighter killed as wildfire explodes near Yosemite National Park
(Courthouse News) A deadly wildfire threatening Yosemite National Park in California doubled in size overnight, fire officials said Monday.
The Ferguson Fire, burning near Highway 140 in Mariposa County, has charred 9,000 acres and is only 2 percent contained, as firefighters negotiate remote and inaccessible terrain along with dry conditions.
Firefighter Braden Varney, 36, died Saturday when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over and down a hill. While his body is located in precarious terrain, officials remain hopeful it will be recovered Monday.
Evacuations for several neighborhoods near the fire, including Clearing House, Mariposa Pines, Cedar Lodge/Savage’s Trading Post and Sweetwater Ridge remain in effect.
Highway 140 is closed from 1.9 miles east of Midpines to the Cedar Lodge area.
Residents in Jerseydale and Yosemite West just outside the park border have been advised they may be ordered to evacuate in short order.
Fire officials with the U.S. Forest Service say the priority is to establish containment lines where the terrain allows, while focusing on keeping the fire out of the park.
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement Monday morning expressing grief at the passing of Varney, a second-generation Cal Fire firefighter with over 10 years of experience with the agency.
“Anne and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of heavy equipment operator Braden Varney, a man who dedicated his life to protecting his fellow Californians,” Brown said. “We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and many colleagues who are mourning this sudden and tragic loss.”
Varney is survived by his wife, Jessica, five-year-old daughter Malhea, and three-year-old son Nolan.
The tragic news comes amid a devastating wildfire season that looks to be worse than last year, when California experienced its deadliest, most costly and largest wildfires in history.
So far this year there have been about 200 more wildfires than at this point in 2017 and about 1,200 more acres burned, with the most intense part of the season still to come.
Weather forecasts for the Mariposa area include hot weather and little rain for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, thunderstorm activity along the Sierra crest may complicate matters with high and erratic winds – the greatest enemy to containment operations.