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Wildfire Forces Tourists To Leave Yosemite National Park


When the Yosemite Valley in California was closed because of smoke from the Ferguson Fire, about a thousand people scrambled to make new plans. Bob Moffitt with Capital Public Radio in Sacramento spoke to some of them as he made his way to Yosemite just past nightfall.

BOB MOFFITT, BYLINE: At the junction of Highway 108 and 120, I found a bunch of people who got out early. Jason Franks was one of them.

JASON FRANKS: It makes sense. The valley was super smoky. It got - there were points where it was, like, hard to see. Like, we went all the way close to Half Dome, and we couldn’t even really see it.

MOFFITT: For about 20 miles and a couple of thousand feet in elevation, I followed a camper up the windy road between Groveland and Yosemite. Right before the entrance to the park, the driver turned off to an RV campground. Turns out, it was Thomas Denis. He and the family flew from France to Los Angeles and then rented the RV to come to Yosemite and camp.

THOMAS DENIS: We have booked one homesite this morning on the website.

MOFFITT: And are you planning to go into the park tomorrow?

DENIS: Yeah.

MOFFITT: They’re going to close the valley floor and Wawona at noon.

DENIS: No, I didn't know.

MOFFITT: He was hopeful they could still see some of the park even if the valley is closed. Farther up Highway 120, Laurie Walker was leaving the park long after the rangers had abandoned their posts at the entry gates.

LAURIE WALKER: They told us they were closing in the park, and they were kicking everybody out of the campground. And we said, is this because of the air quality? And they said, yeah. But as we were driving out, you can see the fire burning on the ridge. Yeah, hopefully it doesn't go clear to the valley.

MOFFITT: But not everyone was leaving. Billy Zhang is 19 and from San Francisco. He made it to the west gate as the last pale yellow remnants of sunset disappeared into the night.

You're, like, maybe the last person to come into camp.

BILLY ZHANG: Oh, yeah, I'm late.

MOFFITT: Do you know that the park's going to be - the valley's going to be closed tomorrow?

ZHANG: Oh, yeah, I know.

MOFFITT: Oh. So why - but you decided to come anyway. How come?

ZHANG: Because I'm going to a Death Valley, so stay one night here.

MOFFITT: Turns out, Billy is also headed to Vegas and the Grand Canyon. He wasn't alone in his multiple destination vacation. Other popular destinations for people leaving the park - San Francisco and New York. The Mariposa County Health Department requested the valley floor be closed because the smoke has made the air quality unhealthy. The National Park Service says it will keep the valley floor closed at least until Sunday. For NPR News, I'm Bob Moffitt.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAIT'S "SLOW GLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Moffitt