Since the beginning of the Rim Fire on August 17, Yosemite Valley remained unaffected by the blaze. This suddenly changed yesterday and smoke began drifting into the famed area, obscuring views of popular landmarks during a busy holiday weekend.
National Park Service spokesperson Kari Cobb told CBS News, "The wind has shifted and smoke is impacting the entire park. We have been lucky until now."
Michelle Hansen, Communications Coordinator for Delaware North Parks and Resorts, and a resident of Yosemite Valley, says the air quality has rapidly gone from clear to a dark haze. "It's so bad now that you can look directly at the sun. The fire burned for ten days yet it was still fine here. Then it all changed. But people are making the best of it. I live here by the campgrounds and these campers are hanging tough. There are out relaxing by the river and walking their dogs."
The smoke has worsened enough to warrant an air quality alert for Yosemite and the surrounding areas through September 2. Heavy smoke is now visible south of the Tioga Road, including in Yosemite Valley and the Wawona area. Visitors to the area should avoid extended strenuous physical activities outdoors. Additionally, those that are sensitive to air quality impacts should avoid going outside in Yosemite.
Firefighters continue battling the blaze and have achieved a 35% containment level. The Rim Fire to date has burned 219,277 acres and is close to becoming the fourth largest fire in California's history. Burnout operations have been initiated in the park as preventive measure against the approaching fire, which is threatening two groves of giant sequoia trees. Rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior continue to hamper suppression efforts.
Despite the fire and smokey conditions Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point and Wawona remain open and accessible via the Highway 140 from Merced and Highway 41 from Fresno entrances. Tuolumne Meadows is accessible via Highway 120 to the east.
For information on fire conditions in the park visit the National Park Service website.