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Air Quality Blog

California's Ferguson Fire threatens National Park, air quality, tourism and more

By Faith Eherts, AccuWeather meteorologist
7/16/2018, 10:58:39 AM

The Ferguson Fire burning outside of Yosemite National Park in central California first drew media attention after claiming the life of a firefighter this past weekend.

The fire was relatively small at the time, encompassing just six acres. Unfortunately, a Heavy Fire Equipment Operator working to contain the fire was killed when his bulldozer rolled over. Branden Varney was 36, and leaves behind two young children.

Low relative humidity, dry brush, strong sunshine and mountainous terrain have all played a role in the fire's recent and rapid expansion. As of Monday, July 16, the fire is covering 4,310 acres and is only 2 percent contained.

A major route into nearby Yosemite National Park has been shut down as result of the fire.

While the park remains open, tourists have been evacuated from nearby lodges, both for air quality and fire safety reasons.

“You can’t see anything, it’s so smoky outside. It’s crazy,” Yosemite Cedar Lodge's front desk clerk, Spencer Arebalo, said.

The ark's official twitter account also warned that "visitors who are sensitive to smoke should plan to limit any strenuous outdoor activities or plan to visit the park another time."

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Anyone planning to hike, climb, or even just set up camp in the park will be risking both their short- and long-term health.

Local air quality reached Unhealthy levels (AQI of 150-200) on Sunday, and a few monitors are reporting Very Unhealthy levels as of 7:00 a.m. PDT. In these conditions, even those with no preexisting health conditions who are not exerting themselves can experience difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, a sore throat and even nausea from breathing in the thick smoke.

Live webcams set up throughout the park show very smoky conditions, with visibility limited to only a few miles or less. Some show nothing but gray.

Yosemite smoke screenshot

Still image from a live webcam of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California. via the Yosemite Conservancy

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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Air Quality Blog