A wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
A wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighter Killed Fighting Blaze Near Yosemite

Firefighter Killed Fighting Blaze Near Yosemite

Updated Saturday 6 p.m.

Cal Fire says a firefighter has been killed while battling a wildfire near Yosemite National Park.

Officials say 36-year old Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was killed Saturday morning while battling the Ferguson Fire, after his bulldozer overturned.

Varney is survived by his wife, Jessica, 5-year-old daughter, Malhea and 3-year-old son, Nolan, according to a statement released by Gov. Jerry Brown's office.

"Anne and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Heavy Equipment Operator Braden Varney, a man who dedicated his life to protecting his fellow Californians," said Brown in the statement. "We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and many colleagues who are mourning this sudden and tragic loss."

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According to Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean, Varney was operating the bulldozer in difficult conditions, with unstable ground. "That whole area is extremely rugged, very steep," he said.

"A lot of the fires — if not all the fires — burning in the state this year have been burning very aggressively. They've been extremely dangerous, and this unfortunate circumstance has taken place," McLean said.

The fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. Friday in Mariposa County, near the west end of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra National Forest.

Officials said the wildfire had burned about 150 acres by Saturday afternoon. Highway 140 was closed from Midpines to El Portal due to the blaze.

The National Parks Service said visitors planning to travel from Mariposa or Merced should use an alternate route.

It also said power in Yosemite Valley had been affected because power lines had been turned off as firefighters work to quell the blaze. Yosemite National Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said the park remains open and fully operational, despite the blaze.

"Ninety-five percent of the visiting public, if you're coming to the park, you're not going to notice an impact," she said.

Richards said park officials have not seen much smoke coming into the park itself, but they are warning visitors to be aware of the blaze.

"Visitors that are sensitive to smoke should be aware that there's a fire not far away," she said. "If winds change, we could see impacts, but there are no impacts from smoke at this time — or very minimal impacts from smoke at this time."

According to Richards, people in the community of El Portal — which lies on the western boundary of the park — are experiencing some smoke impacts.

"Some of our employees down there are seeing smoke in the El Portal community," she said.

Richards said the power outages affecting Yosemite Valley will remain in effect until further notice, but that the park has generators in its core areas, including the hotels and visitor center.

"This is not unusual," she said. "We do see fires in California and Yosemite National Park. We have not seen any significant impacts from fire in 2018, which we're very fortunate for, but our fire crews are ready to respond."

This post contains reporting from the Associated Press.

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