Half Dome – Yosemite Musing
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About noon yesterday I was on top of Half Dome with 2 friends. It was a gorgeous day. Temps were mild until about 3 pm, but we were well on the way down, so it was fine. I was able to give away 7 permits through my blog prior to leaving home and another at Curry Village. 2 “permit wanters” no-showed at our 4 pm Wed rendezvous at Curry, so I was able to give them out on the trail. There are plenty of people with extra permits so please just do the hike and ask. Really. They are averaging only slightly above 200 daily Domers. Just go for it!
We were on top about noon and I see a huge plume of white smoke rising from the southwest. First thought was a prescribed burn. There were a few signs on the road driving in advising such was coming. But it was very dense and big for a controlled fire. The next thought was maybe a plane crash – but it was not black like fuel burning. My photo is tagged 12:48.
As you may have read by now, it was caused by a motor home fire on Hwy 140 just south of the Cedar Lodge, the huge motel complex about 12 miles outside of the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite. I like to arrive this way, so I’m very familiar with the area. To help you, going out of that gate, in about 8 miles you come to the Yosemite View Motel complex on the left . . . then a sister property, the Cedar Lodge. The next place of note is the site of Savage’s Trading Post at the confluence of the South Fork of the Merced and the Merced. If you continue down further, you arrive at the Ferguson Ridge Rockfall, then Briceburg, then Midpines and finally Mariposa. 140 then continues toward Merced.
The incident occurred between the Cedar Lodge and Savages. Apparently the motor home was detaching a car it ws towing when their propane tank somehow ignited and exploded. The resultant fire spread to the grassy edge of the roadway then rose vertically and caught the nearby trees on fire. From there the fire grew and spread into the hills. I have not heard of any casualities. A Budweiser truck was behind the mtor home. By nightfall 1,000 acres had burned and Hwy 140 was closed as fire crews attacked it. Power at the Park went off intermittently. Some buildings had back-up generators but many were reduced to candles and flashlights. The fire threatened the areas north of the fire source, mainly Rancheria near the Cedar Lodge and Yosemite West, the complex of rental homes up on the Wawona Road.
This morning I was making a courtesy call in the main NPS Admin building and most offices were empty at 9 am. Many park staff live in El Portal and the communities at risk. There were few happy faces – a bad time me for me to be there. As I drove out of the park, traffic was being diverted from going out via 140. This artery to Mariposa was closed from near Midpines to the Foresta Bridge Rd near the NPS El Portal complex. All but fire and essential traffic was forced to divert to Highway 120 or 41 to arrive/leave Yosemite. As I drove north across from the Big Meadow on the Big Oak Flat Road, the smoke layer beyond Foresta was significant as the fire moved to the north. It had not reached the Valley. On the way toward Groveland I saw many fire trucks and equipment coming east.
The elite “Hot Shots” fire teams were arriving in their green trucks. These are the “Seal Team 6” of forest fire fighters. Cedar lodge, Incline and local Merced River Canyon Campgrounds were voluntarily evacuated. Rancheria, Old El Portal and Yosemite West have been advised to prepare for evacuations. As I write (9 pm PDT) this the fire is now into the Sierra National Forest and the Stanislaus National Forest, spanning both sides of the Merced. This is a Bad One. The park is open for business – DO NOT come via Hwy 140 until further notice.
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire. I Went Down, Down, Down And The Flames Went Higher. And It Burns, Burns, Burns, The Ring Of Fire” – Johnny Cash
*MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com