Yosemite Trekker; Post #12 --- 9/03/09
The view from Highway 41 looking north -- 9/01/09
Big Meadow Fire
Two miles east of El Portal and encompassing a huge chunk of Yosemite's northwest domain, the Big Meadow Fire continues to spread as 900 firefighters battle to contain it. The blaze was intentionally set on August 25th by a small contingent of fire academy graduates from Santa Monica, with the goal of enhancing meadow restoration. That they accomplished in spades, as the blaze quickly hurdled over their astonished heads and out of 90-acre perimeter designated for the prescribed burn. Residents of the nearby cabin community of Foresta were evacuated and within a few days, nearly 5,000 acres of the park had been torched.
On September 1st, the inferno jumped fire lines again. Below on the left is a shot taken at about 10 a.m. along Highway 41 (Wawona Road) as it winds up from the valley. By 4 p.m., on a return trip from the Mariposa Grove, the setting sun to the west enlivened the billowing cloud stack with dramatic red, yellow, and blue-green tints.
Note: Some photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
As we zoomed our cameras in on the burn area, the scope of the disaster became evident. The area near Foresta had already burned once in 1990, and combined with the residuals of the Grouse Fire just a couple months ago, the terrain in nearly every direction revealed death and destruction. In fact, the one helicopter you see below flying through the smoldering haze pretty much says it all about fire in Yosemite over the past two decades.
As the the forest burned, fire crews stationed near Tamarack Campground have been digging containment lines to bring an end to this event. Tioga Road between Crane Flat and White Wolf was shut down a few days ago due to low visibility, effectively cutting off Tuolomne Meadows and cars headed west from Tioga Pass and Highway 395. (Highways 140 from Merced and 41 from Fresno remain open, as does all of Yosemite's operations in the valley and Wawona. An evacuation center has been set up in the town of Mariposa, where many of the firefighting personnel have pitched camp.) In all, eleven water-dropping helicopters and six air tankers are supporting efforts on the ground to quell the blaze. I caught some of the equipment filling up from the Merced River along Highway 140, near El Portal.
Edie Howe, who publishes LittleRedTent.com, was there with me snapping photos. You can see her work by selecting "Portfolio" on the website home page, which links to her blog.
Highway 120 from the valley to Crane Flat (a.k.a. Big Oak Flat Road) has been closed for over a week now. On the day we passed through, a park ranger posted at the junction with Highway 140 was answering questions from passing motorists. A few miles down the road, El Portal Market, which has a gas station, remains open for business. Only a part of the town, known as Old El Portal, has been evacuated.
Yesterday, smoke started flooding the valley, a grim reminder that all is not well in this land set aside by Lincoln in 1864 for long-term preservation. For the latest updates on the fire, check with CalFire's website inciweb.org
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