A wildfire burning in Yosemite National Park that has kept several popular areas of the federal property closed for the week has grown to nearly 4,900 acres, but officials on Thursday said firefighters were starting to make some progress.
The Meadow fire was 23% contained as it burned east of Half Dome near Little Yosemite Valley -- two areas popular with hikers and mountain climbers because of their proximity to the park’s high peaks and famous waterfalls.
More than 500 firefighters have been assigned to the blaze, along with several aircraft that have been dumping water on the flames since Sunday, park officials said.
The fire, ignited by a lightning strike in July, burned uneventfully but remained small for more than a month. Crews didn’t extinguish it because it was considered part of the forest’s natural burn and regrowth process.
That changed Sunday when strong winds pushed the flames out of control and toward Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. The fire grew from just 19 acres to 2,600 acres in a day and cut off nearly 100 hikers and mountain climbers from an escape, forcing evacuations by helicopter.
Since then, access to the 8,800-foot high Half Dome peak has been cut off. Officials said climbers with permits should be able to return to the mountain Saturday. Those who had passes this week had them refunded. Only a few hundred passes are given out each day with the recipients chosen through a lottery.
Park visitors were granted access to the Half Dome trail (but not the perilous steel cable-climb to the top) and Little Yosemite Valley on Thursday.
While smoke from the fire has dramatically worsened air quality in some areas, it’s also made for some captivating aerial images.
A NASA satellite view of the park shows a massive plume of smoke fanning out from the fire Sunday as it raged out of control.
Smoke can be also seen drifting into Yosemite Valley, five miles east of the park.
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