'Big day': Hotshots secure 2 corners of Washburn Fire in Yosemite National Park

Nearly 1,600 firefighters, 74 engines and 15 helicopters remain on scene

Tim Sheehan
The Sacramento Bee

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Firefighters continue to make progress in their efforts to keep a wildfire burning in Yosemite National Park and the neighboring Sierra National Forest in check, increasing and strengthening containment lines around the blaze.

The Washburn Fire was estimated at 4,911 acres on Tuesday morning, unchanged from the previous day’s estimates by the National Park Service and the National Interagency Fire Center.

Firefighters worked on the Washburn Fire near Yosemite National Park's south entrance on July 12.
Firefighters worked on the Washburn Fire near Yosemite National Park's south entrance on July 12. (Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press)

Containment increased to 58%, an improvement of 8 percentage points from Monday when containment lines had been established and secured around 50% of the fire’s perimeter.

Matt Ahearn, deputy operations chief with the state’s Interagency Incident Management Team that is coordinating the efforts, described Monday as “a big day” for specialized hotshot firefighting crews at the eastern edge of the fire. That’s been the most active growth area of the Washburn Fire over the past week.

Using pumps that were airlifted by helicopter into the Iron Creek drainage south of the Merced River’s south Fork, in the Sierra National Forest, hotshot crews have secured the volatile northeast corner of the fire as well as the corner to the south, near Mount Raymond. “We have lines down through Iron Creek,” Ahearn said Tuesday. “We just need to secure it.”

Along the fire’s northern edge, along the south fork of the Merced River, other hotshot crews have been working with pumps to ensure that flames don’t spread north of the river.

The fire began July 7 along the Washburn Trail within the park’s Mariposa Grove of iconic giant sequoia trees. In and around the grove, which contains more than 500 mature sequoias, containment lines are secure and crews have been mopping up areas that continue to smolder.

Additional containment lines are considered secure along the western perimeter of the fire along Wawona Road ( Highway 41 from Mariposa Grove Road up to the community of Wawona and the south fork of the Merced River.

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The success along the western front enabled fire managers to allow Wawona residents to return to their homes Sunday after being evacuated for more than a week.

Ahearn said fire lines are also holding well the ridge of Mount Raymond, but added that crews are continuing to work on contingency lines to the south and east by shoring up road systems and creating bulldozer and hand lines within the Sierra National Forest.

The southern area of Yosemite National Park remains closed to the general public. That includes the South Entrance from Highway 41, the Mariposa Grove, and Wawona Road between the park entrance and Wawona, because of the ongoing firefighting efforts, both on the ground and in the air.

forest closure is also in effect for the northwestern area of the Sierra National Forest adjacent to the park.

Almost 1,600 firefighters remain assigned to the Washburn Fire, and resources include 35 hand crews, 74 fire engines, and 15 helicopters.

The estimated cost of the firefighting effort to date is more than $21 million. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Share clues to fire’s origin

People who were in or near the Mariposa Grove on the afternoon of July 7 and have information about the fire’s ignition can provide tips by calling or sending a text message to the National Park Service’s investigative branch at 888-6563-0009, by email to nps_isb@nps.gov, or online at nps.gov/orgs/1563/submit-a-tip.htm.

Fire crews are also working another fire that began Monday in Mariposa County, about 5 miles west of the Washburn Fire. The Agua Fire was sparked Monday afternoon after a vehicle drove off the roadway and crashed just west of Mariposa near Highway 140 and Agua Fria Road.

As of Tuesday, the Agua Fire was estimated at about 343 acres and 20% contained, according to Cal Fire, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


©2022 The Sacramento Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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