Officials ID Firefighter Killed While Battling Ferguson Fire Near Yosemite; Raging Wildfire Grows to 9,000 Acres

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A fire that sparked Friday near Yosemite National Park in California turned deadly over the weekend, claiming the life of a firefighter. By late Monday, the blaze threatened more than 108 structures, the US Forest Service said.

Braden Varney, 36, a heavy fire equipment operator, was killed battling the fire, said officials with fire protection agency CAL FIRE. Varney was fatally injured when the bulldozer he was operating to make a fire line rolled over, according to Frank Polizzi, public information officer with the California Department of Industrial Relations.

A helicopter flies over the growing Ferguson Fire on July 14, 2018. (Credit: Associated Press via CNN Wire)

A helicopter flies over the growing Ferguson Fire on July 14, 2018. (Credit: Associated Press via CNN Wire)

Varney leaves behind his wife, Jessica, daughter Malhea, 5, and son Nolan, 3.

California Gov. Jerry Brown extended his "deepest sympathies" and ordered capitol flags lowered to honor the firefighter.

Five hundred personnel were struggling to contain the blaze, dubbed the Ferguson Fire, along the western edge of Yosemite in Mariposa County. On Monday, the Mariposa County Sheriff's department issued a "fire advisement" for the community of West Yosemite, meaning that mandatory evacuations could be necessary if conditions worsen.

So far, the fire has scorched 9,000 acres and remains just 2% contained, the US Forest Service said.

Thick smoke hampered firefighters' efforts Monday until the late afternoon, when "conditions changed as the fire began to actively move southwest," and "clearer air allowed retardant drops using fixed wing tankers to effectively slow fire spread."

The short-term forecast does not appear to help firefighters, with conditions expected "to remain hot and dry for the next seven days, with isolated thunderstorms possible over the Sierra Crest," according to the USFS.

Despite the blaze, Yosemite National Park remains open. But the fire has forced the closure of part of Highway 140, one of the western entrances to the park. Forest Service officials said visitors will need to find alternate routes into the park.

The Ferguson Fire is just one of several fires currently burning across the state, which has faced years of devastating and deadly wildfires causing billions of dollars in damage.

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