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Heart of Yosemite to close as the crews battle raging wildfire

LOS ANGELES – Camping and lodges was emptied after disappointed tourists had to leave the heart of the Yosemite National Park by noon Wednesday, as the fire department fought to contain a huge bushfire just to the west, which has threatened the park, the woods and the smoke that obscured the grand vistas of waterfalls and steep granite faces.

Yosemite Valley is closed until at least Sunday, together with a twisty, mountainous, 20 miles (32 km) stretch of California State Route 41 that leads into the park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

At least a thousand camping and hotel bookings to be cancelled — not to mention the effect on the day visitors, park employees and small businesses along the highway, Gediman said. Rangers went to the campsites at once to inform visitors of the closures. Hotels guests received phone calls and notes on their doors.

“This is the first visitor of the season, so this was not an easy decision,” Gediman said. “This was purely for safety.”

The officials were quick to point out that Yosemite is not under the imminent danger of the Ferguson Fire. The authorities agreed to the closure to crews for the conduct of protective measures, such as burning away brush along roads, without having to deal with the traffic in the park that welcomes over 4 million visitors per year.

The last time that the 7.5-km-long (12-mile long valley was closed because of fire was in 1990, ” he said.

Yosemite Valley is the centerpiece of the visitor experience, with views of landmarks such as Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Bridal Veil Fall, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The glacial valley is surrounded by a choking haze of smoke from the Ferguson Fire.

Visitors are advised to “restrict activity during the periods of poor air quality,” the park said in a statement. “Some facilities and services are closed or diminished.”

About almost two weeks, the flames have churned through more than 57 square miles (148 square kilometers) of timber on steep slopes of the Sierra Nevada just to the west of the park. The fire was only 25 percent contained Tuesday.

Mandatory evacuations in several communities, while others have told to get ready to leave if necessary.

More than 3,300 firefighters are working the fire, assisted by 16 helicopters. A firefighter was killed July 14, and six others have been injured.

Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of the Visit Yosemite/Madera County, said the regional visitors bureau is the move of tourists in the state as a result of the closure.

“People are devastated,” she said. “Some people want to drive for a few days and see if they can get back in the park.” Others want to help find places to stay away from Yosemite.

Gediman proposed valley visitors divert to Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite’s northern outskirts, or to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the south.

“There are beautiful places to visit in the region, so we are asking people to consider alternative plans,” he said.

In the state far in the north, a nearly 4-square-meter (10 square km) wildfire has forced the evacuation of French Gulch, a small Shasta County community that dates back to the Gold Rush.

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