Millions of visitors come to Yosemite National Park, in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, each year for an opportunity to take in the sweeping vistas at one of America's most treasured natural preserves. Hotel guests got phone calls and notes on their doors.
An "out of control" California wildfire prompted officials on Thursday to order thousands of residents to flee their homes as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze in a mountainous area near the city of Redding.
The fire was relatively calm throughout much of Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning as a heavy inversion layer kept fire activity to a minimum, officials said. "This was purely for safety's sake".
Thousands of tourists were evacuated on Wednesday as one of the country's most iconic natural preserves was blanketed with thick smoke from a 38,000-acre fire that has burned for almost two weeks.
"I've been a park ranger for 22 years now, so I have plenty of experience in shutting the park down", Gediman said.
The Carr Fire, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, had blackened about 20,000 acres (8,100 hectares) early Thursday, three times its last-reported size a day ago.
The scenery at Yosemite has been blanketed in hazy smoke, as seen on the park's webcams, at the height of the summer season when the park is swarming with visitors.
Lambert and his wife, Theresa Ho, were briefly evacuated last week when smoke cast an unhealthy pall over the home where they live upstairs and rent the downstairs to tourists. "We're gonna lose half of July and half of August probably".
Brad Lyons and Courtney Richard, who had traveled from St. Louis and Tulsa to visit the park for the first time, stopped for photos Tuesday at Tunnel View, a popular lookout spot to marvel at at the 7.5-mile long valley and its famous landmarks, including El Capitan and Half Dome. The glacial valley has been enveloped by a choking haze of smoke from the Ferguson Fire. Crews had contained just 10 percent of it, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
More than 3,400 personnel are involved in fighting the blaze, NWCG says, in the operation that includes "220 engines, 47 water tenders, 16 helicopters, 88 crews, and 59 dozers".
Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild and several neighboring communities, home to about 12,000 people.
One firefighter was killed on July 14, while six others have been injured.
Over the past two weeks, the fires have burned through 60 square miles of timber in the steep terrain of Sierra Nevada just west of the park.
Parts of the park, including Yosemite Valley, will close Wednesday as firefighters work to stop the blaze.
"The conditions are incredibly strenuous, and we're seeing triple-digit temperatures in places", said Dan McKeague, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
The new evacuations cover communities outside the park's north side.