The heart of Yosemite National Park was closed on Wednesday as a fierce wildfire burning just to the west jumped fire lines overnight, pouring thick smoke into the valley and forcing visitors to pack up camp and flee.
Heavy smoke drifting in from the fire has forced park rangers to close hotels, campgrounds and restaurants in the Yosemite Valley and Wawona.
A 32-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of igniting a blaze that forced the closure of Yosemite National Park, burned five homes and prompted evacuation orders for an entire mountain town in Southern California, officials said.
The closure through at least Sunday led to at least 1,000 campground and hotel bookings being canceled, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
This region of California is prone to summer fires, with other large blazes reported just past year in 2017 and in 2013.
Yosemite National Park said the Yosemite Valley, home to numerous cliffs and waterfalls that make the area famous, would shut at noon on Wednesday.
"The only buildings left standing. right now are the fire station and a couple of restrooms", said Fire Chief Mike Hebrard of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The smoke reduced visibility and posed health risks to visitors in the popular tourist destination as well as park employees, Mackensen said.
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The gates of Yosemite National Park, typically abuzz with activity during the summer, were eerily quiet Wednesday.
The park announced that Yosemite Valley, home to such famous destinations as El Capitan and Half Dome, and Wawona were to be closed to all visitors. The glacial valley's grand vista of waterfalls and shear granite faces has been obscured by a choking haze of smoke from a nearby wildfire.
Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild and several neighbouring communities, home to about 12,000 people.
Over almost two weeks, flames have churned through more than 57 square miles (147.6 square kilometers) of timber in steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada just west of the park.
The fire has been burning for almost two weeks in the Sierra National Forest, and has killed one firefighter who died July 14, when the bulldozer he was operating overturned.
The fire is just 25 per cent contained.
A total of 3,821 personnel have joined the battle to stop the Ferguson Fire, along with 361 fire engines, 55 water tenders and 55 helicopters. "Some want to ride it out for a few days and see if they can get back in the park".
Gediman suggested valley visitors divert to Tuolumne Meadows, on Yosemite's northern edge, or to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the south.
"When we saw that the visitor's center was closed, we knew it had to be bad", Lyons said.