Firefighters watched Saturday (July 21) as an air tanker dropped retardant while battling the Ferguson Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park. Noah Berger/AFP-Getty Images
Firefighters watched Saturday (July 21) as an air tanker dropped retardant while battling the Ferguson Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park. (Noah Berger/AFP-Getty Images)

Ferguson Fire Continues to Grow Near Yosemite as Firefighters Mourn Fallen Comrade

Ferguson Fire Continues to Grow Near Yosemite as Firefighters Mourn Fallen Comrade

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Update, 12:45 p.m. Monday: The massive Ferguson Fire, burning in very rough terrain in the Sierra and Stanislaus national forests just west of Yosemite National Park, grew another 1,259 acres overnight.

The blaze has now consumed 33,743 acres  — nearly 53 square miles — and is 13 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Crews aren't expected to get any help from the weather this week.

The National Weather Service says a widespread heat advisory, including the fire area, will go into effect Tuesday afternoon through Thursday evening, with high temperatures ranging from 103 to 108 degrees.

One firefighter has been killed and six have been injured fighting the blaze.

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The fallen firefighter — 36-year-old Braden Varney — was killed on July 14 after his bulldozer overturned in a steep ravine.

Varney's family and colleagues gathered at a memorial service on Monday in Modesto to remember him.

Bagpipes sounded and speakers told of his personal and professional life. He was said to have been able to operate anything that moved on tracks or wheels by the time he was in middle school. Mourners also recounted the dangerous mission to recover his body as the fire raged.

Update, 7:35 p.m. Sunday: Two more firefighters were injured Sunday battling the massive Ferguson Fire just west of Yosemite National Park.

Forest Service spokesman Jim Mackensen said Sunday evening he did not have additional information on the condition of the injured firefighters or how they got hurt. So far, one firefighter has been killed and six injured fighting the blaze.

The fire, burning in the Sierra and Stanislaus national forests, is now reported to be 32,484 acres, or just over 50 square miles. As of Sunday evening, the blaze was just 6 percent contained.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office issued a new mandatory evacuation order on Sunday for residents of Old Yosemite Road in Groveland as the fire moved north toward the Montgomery Gulch and Anderson Valley areas.

According to fire officials, more than 3,000 personnel are fighting the blaze with 199 engines, 46 water tenders, 16 helicopters and 43 dozers.

Original post, 9:30 a.m. Sunday: The deadly wildfire burning just miles from Yosemite National Park grew by another 1,448 acres Saturday night.

The Ferguson Fire, which ignited on July 13 in the Sierra National Forest, has scorched 30,493 acres — more than 47 square miles — of dry brush along steep terrain. As of early Sunday, the fire was just 6 percent contained. More than 2,900 personnel are fighting the conflagration.

On Saturday, fire officials told KQED the wildfire would likely burn into Yosemite National Park's western boundary at some point. As of Sunday morning, that doesn't appear to have changed.

Inmate firefighters assigned to battle the Ferguson Fire just west of Yosemite National Park on Sunday (July 22). (Noah Berger/AFP-Getty Images)

"I hope it doesn't get in there, but currently it's about 2 miles away," Cal Fire spokesman Richard Eagan said. "Just to give you a frame of reference, last week when I got here, it was almost 5 miles away. So as you can see, it's slowly getting a little bit closer."

Park officials say Yosemite remains open, but Bridalveil Creek Campground, the Merced Grove and Glacier Point Road — which offer sweeping views of some of the park's iconic landmarks — are all closed due to firefighting operations.

The blaze has also forced the closure of key entrance to the park along Highway 140. Yosemite officials are warning visitors that smoky conditions continue to obstruct views in the highly trafficked Yosemite Valley.

With strong fire activity on almost every front of the blaze, officials have no grasp on when they might be able to gain control of the wildfire.

"It's hard to tell with these things," Eagan said. "Hopefully this thing gets wrapped up in a relatively short amount of time, but you never know. With the change in weather, anything is possible."

The blaze jumped the Merced River into the Stanislaus National Forest Friday afternoon. Fire officials said responders attempted a direct attack on that portion of the blaze Saturday, but difficult terrain and fire behavior forced them to back off as conditions grew too dangerous for them to engage safely.

The weather in the region is expected to get hotter and drier in the coming days, with temperatures likely to reach into the triple digits midweek. Officials said that adds another layer of difficulty for firefighters already working under extremely strenuous conditions.

"The big thing for firefighters is to stay hydrated," Eagan said. "We don't want to have anymore heat-related illnesses."

A 36-year-old bulldozer operator died on July 14 while fighting the blaze, after his bulldozer overturned in a steep ravine. Officials say four additional firefighters have suffered injuries.

Officials on Saturday ordered new mandatory evacuations for Yosemite West — an unincorporated community located just outside the southern area of Yosemite National Park — and the community of Anderson Valley.

All previous evacuation orders remain in effect the for Old El Portal, Rancheria Flat, Foresta and Yosemite View Lodge, Cedar Lodge, Savage’s Trading Post, Jerseydale, Sweetwater Ridge, Mariposa Pines and the stretch of Incline Road between Clearing House and the Foresta Bridge.

The wildfire has not destroyed any homes or businesses, but 216 structures remain threatened.

This post includes reporting from The Associated Press.