YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) – Vendors along one of the main roads leading to Yosemite National Park this summer were finally seeing business turn around following a rock slide that kept tour buses away for the previous two years.

That was before a massive wildfire closed the highway and sent towering plumes of smoke and ash over one of the nation’s most celebrated wilderness areas.

“It’s like we just get on our feet and they kick the stool out from under us,” said Donna Santi, a gift shop clerk in Mariposa. “Still, the business will survive. We’re more worried about the residents.”

The fire raging since Friday has destroyed 21 homes and is only 20 percent contained.

Visitors seeking to photograph Yosemite National Park’s famed peaks instead took shots of monoliths obscured by flying ash blowing in from the wildfire burning just 12 miles outside the park.

“It’s the views that are really disappointing,” said Karen Brown, a 45-year-old mother of two from Phoenix. “We do two major trips a year and this was one of them. It’s not like we can shoot back here in a month.”

Brown said her family was packing up a day early to avoid suffering from irritated eyes and sore throats. The children had been “using their imaginations to experience Yosemite,” she said, but ventured they would prefer clear views of Lake Tahoe.

Visitors seeking to enter the park from the west were turned around Tuesday, when authorities temporarily shut down a 10-mile stretch of Highway 140 to keep flames from leaping across the Merced River canyon. The road reopened Wednesday, but officials were still recommending tourists take alternate routes into the park to give fire vehicles enough room to maneuver.

The western gate itself remained open, as did other entrances to the park.

Authorities said Tuesday the blaze had charred more than 50 square miles of steep, rugged terrain since a target shooter sparked the wildfire on Friday.

It has also forced the evacuation of 350 homes in the towns of Midpines and Coulterville, gateway communities whose businesses rely on tourist dollars to stay afloat.

Officials with DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, which manages restaurants and lodging in the park, said only about 2 percent of all overnight guests have asked for refunds since Saturday, when the transmission line that fed power to Yosemite was destroyed in the fire.

Hotels, stores and most restaurants in the park have remained open, but have been operating on generators.

“We’re seeing a few people departing maybe because they have health concerns about the air quality, but virtually everyone’s staying in the park,” said Kenny Karst, a spokesman for the concessionaire. “Our main message is we’re open. The stables are open, we’ve got river rafting, and we’re leading all kinds of hikes and trips to the backcountry.”


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