LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire burning at the western edge of Yosemite National Park that has already killed one firefighter has injured two more, officials said on Wednesday, as crews sought to gain a measure of control over the flames ahead of dangerous thunderstorms.
Flames and smoke rise from a treeline in Mariposa County, California, U.S., July 17, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video obtained July 18, 2018. INSTAGRAM/@JSTETTS/via REUTERS
One firefighter broke a leg while battling the so-called Ferguson Fire and remained hospitalized on Wednesday, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Richard Egan said. A second was treated for heat-related illness and released from a local hospital.
The injuries came as crews made a major push to cut containment lines around the conflagration before thunderstorms predicted for as early as Wednesday afternoon could further whip up the flames.
“These next 48 hours are going to be pretty critical for us in terms of containing the fire,” Egan said, adding that lightning strikes could also touch off new hot spots.
The blaze has so far charred more than 17,300 acres (7000 hectares) of forest land in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and had burned to within a few miles of Yosemite’s western boundary as of Wednesday afternoon, prompting closure of State Route 140 and a park entrance.
Fire managers have issued evacuation orders or advisories for the mountain communities of Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Clearing House and Incline.
Complicating firefighting efforts was an inversion layer of thick black smoke pouring off the flames and visible for miles that has prevented water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft from flying low into narrow canyons.
Egan said that inversion layer was expected to partly clear on Wednesday as the storm approached, allowing aircraft to make runs at the fire.
Firefighter Braden Varney was killed on Saturday when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Varney is the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.
California has had its worst start to the fire season in a decade, with more than 220,421 acres (89,201 hectares) blackened and six major wildfires burning statewide as of Wednesday.
Wildfires have already burned more than 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) across the United States this year, more than the year-to-date average of about 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) over the past 10 years.
The risk of large wildfires is set to ease in much of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains due to expected summer rains, but remain high in California through at least October.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chris Reese