Wildfire smoke ruining vacation, business for thousands at Yosemite National Park

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Heavy smoke from a wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park is forcing hundreds of thousands of tourists to alter their plans during the height of summer vacation, and hurting tourist-dependent businesses serving those seasonal visitors.

Park officials on Tuesday began urging visitors to leave Yosemite Valley, the park’s most popular area, because they are closing the area’s main road on Wednesday afternoon. July is usually the second-busiest month at Yosemite, drawing nearly 600,000 visitors to marvel at its soaring peaks, towering rock walls and wildlife. Only August is busier.

The closure, which takes effect at noon, applies to all hotels, campgrounds and visitor services in Yosemite Valley and Wawona. Anyone staying there will be required to leave, and no one will be allowed back in until at least Sunday, park officials said. An estimated 2,000 people were inside the park as of Tuesday, officials said.

“I’m going to lose $20,000 and that’s money I’ll never see again,” said Ron Skelton, who owns the Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn just outside the park in the El Portal area. “We’re completely shut down.”

The Ferguson Fire began the night of July 13 and has spread across 57 square miles of rugged forest west of the park. The fire itself currently poses no immediate danger to Yosemite, but the heavy smoke prompted authorities to act. Park workers are being offered air purifiers and the government is setting up “clean rooms” to provide respite to people affected by the smoke.

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