Yosemite Valley was reopened for the first time in weeks on Tuesday morning, but some visitors may have been surprised to see a burning hillside along El Portal Road, a key entryway into the famed glacial valley.
Officials at Yosemite National Park had listed the official reopening time as 9 a.m., but a steady stream of light traffic began entering the valley hours earlier.
On Monday evening, helicopter crews worked steadily to stamp out the Ferguson fire as it burned along a hillside near the Merced River. They repeatedly maneuvered their buckets down into the river, avoiding nearby boulders and trees.
Clarence Sibsey sat alone at a table in the Twin Pine Casino evacuation center, tired and dejected.
Once again, a fire was threatening his community and he had to leave home. Two years ago, he fled the massive Valley fire. Now he had been driven away by the Mendocino Complex fire, which at more than 340,000 acres is the biggest in California history.
“We’ve never had fires like this before,” Sibsey said. “Why now?”
Although a break in the weather has provided firefighters a respite from the scorching heat that has complicated the fight against multiple wildfires in California, an alert warning of poor air quality remains in effect for much of the Central Valley, the National Weather Service said.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District warned of poor air quality in Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, the east side of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada and foothill areas due to smoke from the Ferguson fire.
Air pollution control districts in Mariposa and Tuolumne counties have also issued air quality alerts, which will be in effect until the fire is extinguished. The Ferguson fire has scorched 96,457 acres and is 86% contained. The fire has also claimed the lives of a Cal Fire bulldozer operator and a captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots.
Mike Milligan had poor reception in the Holy Jim canyons and foothills when his phone buzzed with a confusing text message: “911 call sheriff.”
The sender was a longtime Trabuco Canyon resident named Forrest Gordon Clark, an eccentric figure well-known in the tightknit community as a troublemaker with a temper who had long clashed with his family and neighbors.
Concerned, the chief of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department dialed Clark’s number, but the call failed.
In the long, hot, smoky California summer of 2018, as we camp under ash-hued sunset skies, the scariest thought is that the future has arrived, and more intense weather extremes will continue to wreak havoc in years to come. Not just in summer, but with drought-deluge cycles and higher temperatures even in cooler months.
Last week, an 81-year-old Van Nuys resident told me that sure, summers have always been hot, but lately they seem to have been imported from Palm Springs.
It’s been an epic aerial assault that is showing signs of success. By Saturday morning, containment of the Holy fire had jumped from 5% to 29% in less than 24 hours. Flames whipped dangerously close to Lake Elsinore suburban developments, but there has not been a major loss of housing so far.
The hot conditions and unpredictable weather has made it difficult for firefighters to get ahead of the fire. But they have one big advantage: easy access to the water from Lake Elsinore, which they have used for countless drops.