As Paul Adams visited Yosemite National Park on Monday, he could smell the smoke in the air from the Detwiler fire burning to the west, near Mariposa.
The San Francisco photographer went into Yosemite Valley that evening, and as the sun set, the smoky sky took on an eerie glow. Then, tiny flecks of white started falling around him.
“It was very, very tiny pieces of ash,” Adams said. “I want to call it almost like hair dandruff. Then, when I went to Mariposa, the ash that was falling was about the size of a snowflake, more pronounced.”
The massive Detwiler fire — which exploded to 45,724 acres overnight Tuesday and forced 4,000 people to flee their homes — has produced huge amounts of smoke that could be seen in satellite imagery as far as Boise, Idaho, more than 500 miles away, according to the National Weather Service.
The conflagration has made for a hazy few days in Yosemite, where roaring waterfalls aided by a record-setting wet winter have drawn legions of tourists.
“It’s been putting off quite a bit of smoke; there’s a lot of stuff burning,” said James Andersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.
Andersen said satellite imagery picked up smoke from the fire in Idaho that is most likely in the upper atmosphere. A high pressure system is sitting to the east of the fire, and the smoke is moving to the north, he said.
There is “absolutely no rain in the forecast” in the area of the fire for at least the next several days, he said.
The blaze knocked out power in Yosemite National Park for several hours Tuesday, but crews were able to restore service at 11 p.m., said Denny Boyles, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. It is unclear whether the fire damaged the park’s power source or it was heat from the flames.
The park’s main source of power comes from a 70,000-volt transmission line, which is not in the fire’s path, Boyles said. But that could change if the fire changes direction, he said.
Mobile generators were positioned near the park as a precaution.
“It’s a fluid situation with the fire still burning,” Boyles said.
About 8,500 customers along the Sierra foothills were without power as crews worked to repair lines damaged by the fire, he said. Some power lines were de-energized to protect fire crews battling the blaze.
The blaze, which started Sunday east of Lake McClure, has destroyed eight structures, damaged one and is threatening an additional 1,500.
The communities of Hunters Valley, Bear Valley, Catheys Valley, Mormon Bar, the town of Mariposa, Mount Bullion, the Yaqui Gulch/Agua Fria areas and Hornitos continue to be threatened, Cal Fire said.
Adams, the photographer, said he was sitting on the back deck of a friend’s bar in Mariposa on Sunday when he started seeing smoke.
As he visited Yosemite National Park on Monday, he initially didn’t see or smell any smoke. But then the wind switched in the afternoon. He went up to Tioga Pass, to an overlook, and saw the haze settling over the valley.
“The sun was setting, and it added that orange glow to the smoke, and we had little pieces of ash falling down. It was very noticeable.”
He posted a photo of Yosemite Falls to Instagram with the caption: “Ash falling everywhere!”
As he left Mariposa on Tuesday morning, he noticed a traffic jam — of firetrucks.