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Hundreds of tourists were ordered out of Yosemite by noon on Wednesday as a massive wildfire continued to grow and rip through the heart of the national park.
Yosemite Valley, an area in the heart of the park known for landmarks like El Capitan and popular with tourists, will be closed until at least Sunday, park officials said. The valley has been obscured under a haze of smoke from the fires, wrapping its sweeping mountain and waterfall views in layers of dangerous fog.
At least one thousand campground reservations and hotel bookings have been canceled due to the blaze. Tourists already camping in the park got individual visits from park rangers, informing them of the mandatory evacuation order, while hotel guests got calls and notes on their doors ordering them out for their own safety.
“This is the prime visitor season, so this wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Yosemite Spokesman Scott Gediman told the AP. “This was purely for safety’s sake.”
Although Yosemite isn’t under direct imminent danger due to the wildfire, dubbed the Ferguson Fire, the evacuations will allow for firefighters to preemptively burn brush and perform other proactive measures without needing to worry about visitors’ safety.
More than 3,300 firefighters and 16 helicopters have been battling the blaze, which has been burning for nearly two weeks. It so far has scorched 57 miles of wooded area and has killed one firefighter as it tears through Sierra Nevada. The fire had previously encroached on Yosemite’s outer edge, forcing small scale evacuations there.
Yosemite Park gets about 4 million visitors per year. Park officials are helping evacuated tourists find other options to visit, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which are south of Yosemite.
“There are wonderful places to visit in the region,” Gediman said. “So we’re asking people to consider alternative plans.”
Featured image by NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images.
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