This year the Yosemite region was affected by the “Ferguson Fire.” It burned 96,901 acres in total and although this was a huge disruption during peak season, fires are a natural part of the ecosystem here. Not only has this event increased the fire safety for Mariposa County but it has also laid the groundwork for a gorgeous spring wildflower season. Thankfully the physical impact left behind is incredibly minimal within Yosemite National Park’s boundary. Tourists can enjoy all the icons they have been dreaming to see, and most will not even be aware the event took place as they take in the famous jaw-dropping scenery.
Sunrise at Tunnel View vista point, Yosemite National Park
The Ferguson Fire started on July 13th 2018 and reached 100% containment August 18th 2018. Only about 10,000 of the 96,901 acre burn where within Yosemite National Park’s boundary. The park itself is 748,436 acres, indicating that a very small percentage of Yosemite was burned. No buildings, roads or trails were burned inside the park. The majority of the affected area is along California State Highway 41, a section of road that lies between Wawona and Yosemite Valley. Visitors need not worry about the Ferguson Fire’s impact spoiling their vacation. As Yosemite’s Superintendent Mike Reynolds put it, the park is “spectacular as ever.”
Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias
Although the Ferguson Fire was started from heated fragments of a vehicle and we should do all we can to avoid these unplanned errors, it’s important to understand how fire can function beneficially in the ecosystem here. For about a century, the mentality was to suppress fires in Yosemite, but we now know fires are an important piece in the land’s natural cycles. Fire can increase habitat and species diversity through the multitude of its effects like providing a range of environments since the fire burns at varying heat intensities across the landscape. It can also decrease tree density which helps support sun loving plants like the giant sequoia trees. In fact, the giant sequoia is adapted to and even thrives off naturally cycling fire. Fire opens their small pine cones and releases the seeds into the soil. Furthermore, when a fire sweeps over the ground it will simultaneously clear the ground of debris giving the seeds an even better chance of germination. If a fire burns hot enough it will both burn the ground to an ideal “mineral soil” and eliminate competing plants. To see these beautiful trees that have evolved to partner with fire you can visit any of the three groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite including Merced Grove, Tuolumne Grove or the newly restored Mariposa Grove.
Because a better understanding has been gained concerning fires and their ability to contribute to the health of the park, there are now prescribed burns and fire management tactics implemented. This can include allowing fires ignited via lightning strikes to run their course when conditions are safe or using research to perform prescribed burns on specific plots of land. We encourage you to learn more about fire through the lens of nature’s cycles in a thorough article from the National Park Service, “Fire Ecology and Monitoring.”
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