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Yosemite fire could become major threat to national park, climate scientist warns

4,000-acre blaze could threaten Yosemite park
Credit: Andrew Kuhn, AP
Crews battle the Ferguson Fire along steep terrain behind the Redbud Lodge along Highway 140 near El Portal in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 14, 2018.

REDDING, California —A university climate scientist has a dire prediction for the 4,000-acre blaze burning just west of California's Yosemite National Park and only 2 percent contained as of Sunday afternoon.

Daniel Swain believes the Ferguson Fire “is likely to burn for many days and may eventually become a major threat” to the national park, he said via Twitter. Swain, of the University of California at Los Angeles, made the prediction based on two factors.

One is that the fire is burning in a tinderbox – an area that’s filled with dry, dead trees that became infested with beetles during previous years of drought. The other reason he’s concerned is that he believes that area of Mariposa County faces “a long period of hot weather to come.”

Some 500 firefighters battled the wildfire, which started at about 8:30 p.m. Friday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The fire’s cause was undetermined as of Sunday.

The flames are burning brush and timber in steep, inaccessible terrain. Pacific Gas and Electric has de-energized its power lines that run through the fire area so there’s no electricity in the Yosemite, El Portal and Foresta areas.

Fire crews weren’t getting a break Sunday with triple-digit temperatures in the forecast along with isolated thundershowers on the Sierra Nevada ridges.

The blaze was largely out of control after scorching more than 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) of dry brush in on the park's western edge. Some rural communities and several lodges and hotels have been evacuated.

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Meanwhile, a California official said the body of a firefighter killed during the wildfire near Yosemite National Park won't be retrieved until at least Monday, The Associated Press reported Sunday afternoon.

Heavy fire equipment operator Braden Varney was driving a bulldozer when he died Saturday.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Deputy Chief Scott McLean said Varney's body was in a precarious location in steep terrain and conditions remained too dangerous to allow crews to get close Sunday. He said they will try again Monday.

Investigators were working to determine further circumstances surrounding Varney's death.

More: California wildfire burns 30,500 acres, destroys 72 structures

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