With so much to do in Yosemite apart from hiking, visitors flock to the National Park in all seasons. Summer is the peak time for travelers, both international and domestic, but it's also a tricky time for California — especially in summers following dry spring conditions.
California has a long history of wildfires, including blazes that have wiped out entire cities and communities, leaving disaster and years of cleanup in their wake.
Unfortunately, Yosemite National Park is one California location that deals with fire threats throughout the year, not only in the summer.
But the dry heat of midsummer and plenty of combustible materials — not to mention a history of lightning strikes — create the perfect conditions for wildfires.
After all, Yosemite is made up of mostly dense forest, and the hills of California create a meandering path for flames when they do spark up.
There are a few things visitors should know about wildfires in Yosemite National Park — including how to stay safe in fire season.
Yosemite Is In A California Wildfire Hotspot
With its breathtaking setting and fascinating history, Yosemite National Park is a beloved travel destination for people across the globe.
Unfortunately, it's also at the center of a California wildfire hotspot. In reality, much of California is a "hotspot," as wildfires spread each year, particularly in summer.
Yet some amount of wildfire is beneficial to Yosemite's ecosystems. The danger generally lies in unplanned fires, including human-made ones.
Historic Fire Suppression Activities Benefited Yosemite's Landscape
In decades past, the National Park Service was not as concerned about fire danger in Yosemite.
Historically, "low-intensity surface fires" used to happen due to lightning. The naturally occurring fire helped prevent overgrown forests.
Today, though, after years of fire suppression in the park, the forests are denser and have more "woody debris" built up, says the NPS.
The result is a forest that is more likely to catch on fire — by accident — and create a massive wildfire that threatens not just Yosemite but the surrounding valleys.
Modern (Uncontrolled) Fires Can Wreak Havoc In Yosemite
Areas around Yosemite, and the park itself, are often closed due to fire danger.
Over the years, huge fires like the Rim Fire (2013 — 255,000 acres, including more than 77,000 within Yosemite National Park) and the El Portal Fire (2014 — under 5,000 acres across three national forest areas) have threatened Yosemite.
A 2018 fire also forced tourists and locals to evacuate and took the life of at least one firefighter.
In the summer of 2022, the fast-moving Oak Fire resulted in evacuations throughout Mariposa County in the communities surrounding Yosemite.
That fire closed State Route 140, which NPR noted is one of the main routes into the park.
Prior to the Oak Fire, a smaller blaze also burned part of the park, uncomfortably close to a group of giant sequoias — a noteworthy destination for visitors.
Various other fires have happened over the years, including some due to human negligence.
Be Aware Of Fire Danger While Visiting And Camping
Though the fire danger in Yosemite National Park is very real, it remains a worthwhile destination in multiple seasons.
The key is to recognize the possible danger, be prepared for possible hazards, and aim for prevention while visiting.
Checking park conditions before visiting is always smart; Yosemite has a Current Conditions page that advises travelers of road and park area closures.
Travelers can also use fire alert apps such as Watch Duty (a California-specific wildfire notification app for both web and mobile devices) to stay up to date.
Yosemite's standard Wilderness Safety tips are also a handy reference.
While the tips don't specifically cover fire danger, suggestions like carrying a first aid kit, extra water, and a map and compass are smart, no matter the conditions.
Always Follow Park Rules For Wildfire Prevention
Yosemite National Park implements fire restrictions based on local conditions (specifically at Crane Flat) and weather patterns. Per the NPS, there are three restriction stages, and those restrictions apply in specific areas of the park.
For example, charcoal and wood fires are only permitted in specific areas (check campground rules for specifics) within set timeframes, and ground cover (tree needles, leaves, etc.) cannot be burned.
Smoking is not permitted in public areas, on rails, or within 25 feet of any building, and fireworks are always prohibited.
If an emergency does occur, the NPS at Yosemite is available via their emergency-only phone number; 1(209) 379-1992
Though visitors can't prevent all wildfires from occurring, being safe from fire while camping goes a long way toward protecting the park and fellow travelers.
Plus, having a plan for evacuation (carrying a paper map and knowing multiple routes out of the park is always smart) offers peace of mind so travelers can focus on enjoying everything Yosemite has to offer.