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Yosemite fire now at 4,700 acres; 300 people evacuated

August 29, 2011 |  6:26 pm

Yosemite fire 
A wildfire, touched off when a propane tank on a motor home traveling one of the main highways into Yosemite exploded, was in its fifth day Monday, but visitors to the national park could be forgiven if they didn’t notice.

Smoke from the rugged slopes burning in a box canyon along the Merced River didn’t even tinge the skies above Yosemite Valley, said Scott Gediman, Yosemite National Park spokesman.

“The sky is blue,” Gediman said. "There’s water in the waterfalls, the trails are open and it does not affect them in any way, shape or form.”

The motor home went up in flames Thursday afternoon on Highway 140 between Yosemite and Mariposa, spitting embers that started separate fires on both sides of the river, Gediman said. There were no injuries in the vehicle fire, he added.

By Monday, the blaze had eaten more than 4,700 acres of manzanita, scrub oak and Ponderosa pines. Highway 140 remained closed, but the other major routes into the park –- highways 41 and 120 –- were still open. And park services were unaffected.

“It’s business as usual,” said Lisa Cesaro, spokeswoman for Delaware North, the park concessionaire.

About 300 people, mainly park service and concession employees, were under an evacuation order covering El Portal, Rancheria, Cedar Creek Lodge and the Merced River campgrounds.

Most of them were placed in empty cabins, tents or other lodgings in the valley, or found space with family and friends, park authorities said.

The small community of El Portal, largely a company town, is only 15 miles from Yosemite Valley, but, 2,000 feet lower and 10 degrees hotter, it exists in a different dimension. In the summertime, some locals call it, affectionately, “Hell Portal.” 

Cesaro said it’s a strong community. Even the animals –- bear, deer and mountain lions –- take care of themselves, dispersing safely in the chaparral until the fire is over, Gediman said.

Ellen Knapp, a Red Cross spokeswoman, said a single person showed up at the organization’s evacuation center at the Lutheran Chuch in Mariposa on Thursday. A couple more trickled in on Friday, but nobody checked in for the rest of the weekend, she added.

“If more people have to evacuate, we will move to Fish Camp and become a shelter,” she said.

The community has been through rock falls, flooding, weeklong power outages and fires in 2008, 2009 and now, during one of the last summer weekends of 2011, what authorities are calling the Motor fire.

Despite inconveniences, this is one that they are largely able to shrug off.

“Do I sound concerned?” Gediman said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but fire is just a fact of life of living here.”



Small plane crashes into yard in Santa Monica           

Motorist killed after car plunges down mountainside        

Skydivers who collided in midair remain in critical condition       

-- Gale Holland

Photo: Fire chews through brush at Yosemite. Credit: U.S. Forest Service