Ferguson Fire grows to over 12,000 acres

The fire has caused evacuations west of Yosemite National Park in California

(Originally published at 8:07 a.m. PDT July 17, 2018)

map Ferguson Fire
Map produced by the Incident Management Team, July 17, 2018. The line with the dots and plus signs represents a proposed dozer line. Click to enlarge.

The Ferguson Fire has continued to march across the remote, steep terrain west of Yosemite National Park. On Monday it grew on all sides to some extent, with most of the additional blackened acres being added on the south and east sides.

Areas that are under mandatory evacuation orders include Incline Road from Clearing House to the last BLM campground; Jerseydale/Mariposa Pines; Cedar Lodge/ Indian Flat Campground, Savage’s Trading Post and Sweetwater Ridge.

Many areas are under an advisory or potential evacuation order should conditions change. A few examples are Yosemite West, National Park Service El Portal Complex, and Old El Portal. The Mariposa County Sheriff’s office has more current details about evacuation orders.

map Ferguson Fire
Map with red shaded areas indicating areas of intense heat at 9:08 p.m. PDT July 16, 2018.

Monday morning the incident management team announced that overnight mapping flights determined that 12,525 acres have burned in the Ferguson Fire.

Road closures:

  • Highway 140 from Abbie Rd in El Portal to 14 miles north of Mariposa;
  • Incline Road;
  • River Road from Briceburg to the gate at Railroad Flat;
  • Hites Cove / Jerseydale Road.

Approximately 1,486 personnel are assigned to the fire, including 118 engines, 5 water tenders, 4 helicopters, 39 hand crews, and 16 dozers. Air tankers are assigned as needed and as smoke and visibility allow. We have seen up to eight being used at the same time, ranging from the 1,200-gallon S2T’s to the 11,600-gallon DC-10’s.

Fire whirl, or waterspout, or fire tornado?

Spectacular video at a fire near Blythe, California

Above: screenshot from the video below.

Chris Mackie posted this video on July 15, 2018 of spectacular fire behavior at a wildfire on the Arizona side of the Colorado River near Blythe, California. It is not uncommon to see dust devils and fire whirls during unstable weather conditions on a fire, but as you can see beginning at about 1:10 the rotating vortex over this fire intensifies into what some might call a fire tornado (or “firenado”) as trees are uprooted and debris is thrown into the water as it moves over the river (and transforms into a waterspout?).

We have written about similar phenomenons several times on Wildfire Today. Here is an excerpt from a 2016 article, “Defining fire whirls and fire tornados”:


“The news media sometimes calls any little fire whirl a “fire tornado, or even a “firenado”. We found out today that these and related terms (except for “firenado”) were, if not founded, at least documented and defined in 1978 by a researcher for the National Weather Service in Missoula, David W. Goens. He grouped fire whirls into four classes:

  1. Fire Devils. They are a natural part of fire turbulence with little influence on fire behavior or spread. They are usually on the order of 3 to 33 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities less than 22 MPH.
  2. Fire Whirls. A meld of the fire, topograph, and meteorological factors. These play a significant role in fire spread and hazard to control personnel. The average size of this class is usually 33 to 100 feet, with rotational velocities of 22 to 67 MPH.
  3. Fire Tornadoes. These systems begin to dominate the large scale fire dynamics. They lead to extreme hazard and control problems. In size, they average 100 to 1,000 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities up to 90 MPH.
  4. Fire Storm. Fire behavior is extremely violent. Diameters have been observed to be from 1,000 to 10,000 feet and winds estimated in excess of 110 MPH. This is a rare phenomenon and hopefully one that is so unlikely in the forest environment that it can be disregarded.”

Ferguson Fire forces evacuations in Jerseydale area

The fire has burned over 9,000 acres west of Yosemite National Park in California

(UPDATED at 7:50 a.m. PDT July 16, 2018)

3-D map Ferguson Fire
3-D map of the Ferguson Fire at 8:53 p.m. PDT July 15, 2018. Click to enlarge.

After 3 p.m. Sunday the intensity of the Ferguson Fire increased dramatically as it spread 1.5 to 2 miles to the south and southeast, coming closer to the structures in the Jerseydale area.

Mandatory evacuation orders are still in effect. Sunday morning a fire advisement was issued for the Yosemite West area, which is on Wawona Road southeast of El Portal. It is an advisement of a potential Evacuation Order should conditions change.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Based on an 8:53 p.m. mapping flight Sunday night the Incident Management Team reported that the fire at that time had burned 9,266 acres.

map ferguson fire
Map of the Ferguson Fire at 8:53 p.m. PDT July 15, 2018. The yellow line was the approximate perimeter at 2 p.m. July 15. Click to enlarge.

The weather at the Ferguson Fire is expected to remain hot and dry for the next seven days, with isolated thunderstorms possible.

The 20-second video below is a time-lapse of still images of the fire captured between 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. July 15. Toward the end you will see a smoke column break through the inversion as the fire intensity increases. Sierra Fire Watch posted it, saying it was shot from a point near Mt. Raymond.


(UPDATED at 7:41 p.m. PDT July 15, 2018)

Ferguson Fire
Ferguson Fire. Photo uploaded to InciWeb Sunday afternoon.

Continue reading “Ferguson Fire forces evacuations in Jerseydale area”

Firefighter fatality on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning, July 14, on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.Varney fatality

Ferguson Fire burning west of Yosemite National Park

Above: map showing heat on the Ferguson Fire detected by a satellite at 3 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018.

(UPDATED at 3:15 p.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

For a while late Saturday morning, smoke and impaired visibility grounded all air tankers on the Ferguson Fire, but by early afternoon the smoke had cleared enough to bring them back to drop retardant.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Now we are hearing that the fire has spotted across the South Fork of the Merced River on the west side of the fire. There is an effort to have the air tankers pretreat a ridge in an attempt to slow down the fire in that area.


(UPDATED at 2:02 p.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.


(UPDATED at 9:26 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

At 9:26 a.m. PDT Air Attack said the Ferguson Fire was holding at about 150 acres. The terrain, smoke, and power lines are challenges for the air tankers working the fire.

aircraft ferguson fire
At 9 a.m. PDT flight tracking showed two S2T air tankers and an Air Attack aircraft over the Ferguson Fire. The green line was the approximate track of the Air Attack ship.

(Originally published at 7:44 a.m. PDT July 14, 2018)

Highway 140, one of the three highways that lead into Yosemite Valley in California, is closed due to a new wildfire. The Ferguson Fire was reported at 10:35 p.m. Friday and at last report had burned about 75 acres. The fire is just off Highway 140 near Hite Cove and has high potential to grow. Since firefighters were working under electrical lines the power in the area has been shut off, which may affect Yosemite National Park. The area around Savages Trading Post has been evacuated.

The fire is spreading in steep terrain in the Sierra National Forest 7 miles west of El Portal. The incident commander has requested four fixed wing air tankers, of any type, to attack the fire early Saturday morning if possible. They also requested dozers, helicopters, water tenders, and hand crews.

Two fires in Southern California you didn’t hear about

Long time fire photographer Jeff Zimmerman sent us these photos he shot at two recent Southern California fires that you did not hear about. Like many, many others, they were successfully attacked by firefighters and contained before growing into major conflagrations.

The photo above as well as the next three, were from the July 6 Hunter Fire off Sylvan road near Lake Hughes. Jeff got some quick shots with a camera phone of U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County personnel working at a vehicle fire that got into the brush at 5:20 a.m. during Red Flag Warning conditions. It burned one acre in addition to the vehicle.

Hunter Fire California Lake Hughes
Hunter Fire at Lake Hughes. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
Hunter Fire California Lake Hughes
Hunter Fire at Lake Hughes. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
Hunter Fire California Lake Hughes
Hunter Fire at Lake Hughes. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

On July 8 Jeff was at a fire in Lebec, California as firefighters from Kern County, BLM, USFS and LA County battled a stubborn vegetation fire. It was reported at 1:35 p.m. along Lebec and Lebec Oaks Road which brought a large response including fixed wing aircraft. No structures were damaged but several rural homes had to have structure protection put in place and large animals were evacuated. Firefighters stopped it at 62 acres. Jeff said extremely high temperatures and very low relative humidity have been a big factor in spawning wildfires across the State this week.

The next four photos are of the fire in Lebec:

wildfire Lebec, California
Fire at Lebec, California. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
wildfire Lebec, California
Fire at Lebec, California. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
wildfire Lebec, California
Fire at Lebec, California. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
wildfire Lebec, California
Fire at Lebec, California. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Jeff Zimmerman photographs fires and writes about them, usually from Southern California.