Yosemite wildfire smoke chokes national park’s views and air quality

Smoke rises from hills as the Washburn Fire burns near Ahwahnee, California, U.S., July 9, 2022 in this screengrab taken from a handout video. alertwildfire.org/Handout via REUTERS

A wildfire threatening some of the world’s oldest giant sequoia trees in California’s Yosemite National Park expanded five-fold over the weekend as smoke prompted air quality alerts throughout the park and obscured views of its famed scenery.

As of Sunday, the blaze had scorched nearly 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of timber and brush at the southern end of the park, up from 250 acres on Friday, a day after fire was first reported by visitors on the Washburn Trail of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

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National Park Service personnel immediately closed the Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 mature giant sequoias, and on Friday evacuated the adjacent community of Wawona and the Wawona Hotel and campground.

Coming at the height of the summer tourist season, the evacuations displaced an estimated 1,600 people in all, according to Park Service spokesperson Nancy Phillipe. The Park Service also has shut down the southern entrance to the park, which Phillipe said draws about 4 million visitors a year.

The park’s best-known attractions, including Yosemite Valley, remain accessible to visitors from its western entrance. But smoke and soot have dimmed views of landmarks such as the towering granite formations of El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as Bridalveil Fall and surrounding cliffs.

Federal wildfire officials on Sunday warned that air quality for particulate matter had reached unhealthy levels across much of the park.