A wildfire that killed a California firefighter grew quickly and forced the closure of a key route into Yosemite National Park as crews contended with sweltering conditions Sunday, authorities said. The blaze that broke out Friday scorched more than 6 square miles of dry brush along steep, remote hillsides on the park's western edge.
It was burning largely out of control, and officials shut off electricity to many areas, including Yosemite Valley, as a safety precaution.
Guests were ordered to leave Yosemite Cedar Lodge on Saturday as flames crept up slopes and the air became thick with smoke.
"You can't see anything, it's so smoky outside. It's crazy," said front desk clerk Spencer Arebalo, one of a handful of employees who stayed behind at the popular hotel inside the park.
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. A stretch of State Route 140 into Yosemite was closed, and motorists were urged to find alternate routes.
Spiking temperatures and inaccessible terrain was making it difficult for crews to slow the flames, U.S. Forest Service fire Capt. Mike Seymour said.
Heavy fire equipment operator Braden Varney, 36, died early Saturday on the fire line, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Varney was driving a bulldozer to create a gap in vegetation to keep the flames from extending into a nearby community, according to Cal Fire Fire Chief Nancy Koerperich.
Varney's body likely won't be retrieved until Monday at the earliest because it's in a "precarious location" and conditions were too dangerous over the weekend, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said.
"Braden is known by everyone in Mariposa County and is a star in our community and is a friend of everyone," Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said.
The wildfire is one of several burning across the state and among 56 large blazes that are active in the U.S., most in the American West, a region that is struggling with drought and heat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.