Danette Moreno cradled her small black support dog Angus in her arms Tuesday at a gymnasium turned evacuation center at Mariposa’s New Life Christian Fellowship, wondering when she’ll be able to return to her Mariposa Pines residence.
Moreno is among a handful of residents who’ve been holding court at the center due to the massive Ferguson Fire. Other evacuated residents are waiting out the fire in hotel rooms or staying with family and friends in the region.
Still, the 64-year-old Moreno, who has been at the center since Saturday, seemed to take it all in stride, saying the air-conditioned gymnasium is comfortable, and staff with the Red Cross have been attentive.
Regardless, Moreno said there’s no use in worrying about her home. “I am really not fearful because I know it’s all out of our control. And it’s just stuff,” she said. “There’s no point in worrying because you can’t do anything. All you can do is hope for the best.”
Firefighters say it’s still too soon to determine when the approximately 100 residents like Moreno who’ve been evacuated will be able to return home. The Ferguson Fire, which has been burning west of Yosemite National Park since Friday evening, grew to 13,082 acres Tuesday, up from 9,266 acres Monday.
Containment increased to 5 percent Tuesday from 2 percent the previous day.
Steep terrain and dense smoke have been a challenge for firefighters. Plus dead trees caused by bark beetles and dry weather have been factors.
“This fire is being driven by topography and vegetation,” said Adrienne Freeman, spokeswoman for the unified agencies fighting the blaze, including Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
Firefighters are using rafts to cross the Merced River to gain access to the eastern flank of the fire, Freeman said. They are addressing the blaze with “indirect line construction” — meaning they are fighting the flames by finding areas of the land where they can hold the fire.
“Direct line construction,” Freeman explained, is when firefighters stand at the edge of the fire and battle it from that point.
As of Tuesday, 108 structures remained threatened, particularly in the Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Clearing House and Incline areas.
Mandatory evacuations are in place for: Incline Road from Clearing House to the last Bureau of Land Management campground; Jerseydale/Mariposa Pines; Cedar Lodge/Indian Flat Campground; Savage’s Trading Post; and Sweetwater Ridge.
Highway 140, the Merced River canyon route to Yosemite, remained closed.
Residents of mountain communities affected by the Ferguson Fire are mourning the death of Cal Fire firefighter Braden Varney, who was killed when his bulldozer rolled over in steep terrain near El Portal.
In addition, two other firefighters have been injured, Cal Fire said.
A vehicle procession of firefighters and first responders on Monday carried Varney’s body from Highway 49 South and Darrah Road near Bootjack to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office. As the procession rolled past, Varney’s fellow Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service firefighters saluted as residents held American flags with their hands on their hearts in remembrance of his sacrifice.
Pat Tierney, who attended the procession, had known Varney since he was born. Tierney said Varney’s death means Mariposa County will be missing a great citizen.
“My boys and Braden all grew up together,” Tierney said. “He was a fine, outstanding man as far as being generous to his neighbors.”
Moreno said while she didn’t know Varney personally, she has friends who did, adding that she’s thankful to the efforts of firefighters like him, and worries for their safety.
“The way they put themselves on the line for us,” she said, “is just heartwarming.”