Firefighter dies battling blaze near California's Yosemite


5:19am Updated

A second-generation California firefighter who was using a bulldozer to prevent a wildfire from spreading was killed Saturday near Yosemite National Park.

Some 500 firefighters battled the wildfire, which started at about 8:30 p.m. Friday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. He is survived by his wife and two young children.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman John DeYoe says the blaze has scorched 14 square miles (36 kilometers) of brush and timber as of Monday morning. It is 2 percent contained.

CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire.

At least 1,486 fire personnel were deployed in an effort to stop the flames from reaching more than 100 homes and other structures that are threatened, fire officials said.

Evacuations also were ordered in rural communities just outside the park, and people in nearby lodges and motels were told to be ready to leave if flames approach.

First responders haven't been able to retrieve Varney's body from inside the bulldozer because of a "rollover".

They said the fire had burned about 130 acres (52.61 hectares) by Saturday afternoon. A stretch of State Route 140 has been closed since the weekend, and drivers have been urged to find alternate ways into the park.

United States wildfires have already burned more than 1.3 million hectares this year, more than the year-to-date average of about 1.2 million hectares over the past 10 years.

Investigators were working to determine further circumstances surrounding Varney's death.

Varney is the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter killed in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data. The steep, rugged terrain adds to the challenges facing the Ferguson Fire team.

Firefighters are working to extinguish a wildfire burning along Highway 140, the highway that connects Merced, Mariposa, and Yosemite.

He says power in Yosemite Valley was turned off while firefighters worked to quell the blaze, but it was turned back on Sunday morning.

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