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After weeks of smoke and fire, Yosemite Valley to reopen at Yosemite National Park

After weeks of smoke and fire, Yosemite Valley to reopen at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley, the crown jewel of Yosemite National Park, is set to reopen to tourists Tuesday after a three-week hiatus during its peak season because of an enormous and deadly wildfire raging in the area.

The fire, which has roared through 150 square miles of mostly forest and overgrown brush since igniting July 13, is the largest ever in the Sierra National Forest. Two firefighters died battling the blaze.

Yosemite Valley is a small fraction of the magnificent park that sprawls across more than 1,100 square miles. But it is home to iconic attractions such as Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Half Dome that are the top draw for visitors from around the world. The valley was closed to tourists July 25.

“We are all very excited,” park ranger and spokeswoman Jamie Richards said. “While the valley only makes up about 5 percent of the park, it does hold some of the most treasured features.”

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Richards said smoke, from the local Ferguson Fire and others in the region, continues to roll through the park. California is struggling with more than a dozen major wildfires fueled by intense heat and high winds.

The Ranch Fire near Mendocino, 300 miles to the northwest, became the largest wildfire in state history. The fire has burned 460 square miles. And the Carr Fire, 300 miles to the north of Yosemite, has destroyed more than 1,000 homes. Both are about 60 percent contained.

At Yosemite, Richards said the park‘s air has improved over the last two weeks and that visibility is clear and views magnificent for much of the day.

Some roads remain closed to allow firefighters to battle the blaze, which was 86 percent contained. But the park is accessible, she said.

“It will be nice to have a sense of normalcy back in the park,” she said. “In August we should be buzzing with the hustle and bustle of people moving around, seeing the sights.”

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias reopened to visitors Monday. The grove reopened to visitors on June 14 after a three-year restoration project.

But while the news was encouraging, the Park Service warned that there will be limited hours and limited visitor services at park facilities as the park returns to normal operations.

Michael Reynolds, Yosemite National Park Superintendent, expressed gratitude to firefighters who have labored for weeks to protect the park, which was established in 1890.

More than 4.3 million people visited in 2017; more than 5 million in 2016. It’s unclear what impact the wildfires will have this year, but Reynolds was upbeat.

“This is truly a historic and unprecedented event in park history,” he said. “We are thrilled to welcome back visitors to Yosemite Valley.”

 

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