A deadly California wildfire more than doubled in size and raged through more than 14 square miles of brush and forest Monday, blanketing much of Yosemite National Park in smoke and forcing closure of a major access road at the height of tourist season.
Fire officials had not determined the cause of the blaze that began burning Friday night along the park's western edge, where evacuation orders were issued for a handful of small communities.
Hundreds of firefighters battled a blaze that was only 2 percent contained. John DeYoe, spokesman for the interagency campaign combating the Ferguson Fire, said a "massive order" of firefighters, engines and other gear rolled in Monday.
"We had extreme fire behavior overnight," he told USA TODAY. "It caught a couple of drainages (low-lying areas) and ran."
More communities are being warned that mandatory evacuations are coming soon, "so get your stuff ready," DeYoe said.
The Yosemite Cedar Lodge is normally buzzing this time of year. An evacuation order emptied it.
“You can’t see anything, it’s so smoky outside. It’s crazy,” front desk clerk Spencer Arebalo said.
The terrain is so rugged that firefighters took until Monday afternoon to retrieve the body of firefighter Braden Varney, 36, a married father of two, who was killed Saturday when his bulldozer rolled over, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said.
A procession in Varney's memory was set for Monday afternoon as his body was removed from the site and taken to the local coroner's office. Firefighters have maintained an honor guard by Varney's body since his death.
The fire is one of dozens burning across the West as the region struggles with high temperatures that increased fire danger. The steep, rugged terrain adds to the challenges facing the Ferguson Fire team.
"Weather is expected to remain hot and dry for the next seven days, with isolated thunderstorms possible," Michael Strawhun, South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team, warned in his incident report.
Throughout Washington, Oregon, Northern California and much of the interior Northwest, above-average temperatures will persist through at least the first half of the week, according to AccuWeather. By the end of the week, cooler weather is expected to infiltrate the Pacific Northwest, limiting daily high temperatures to more comfortable levels.
In Yosemite, a 2-mile section of State Route 140 was shut down as firefighters worked to form a fire line along the highway. The park remained open, but visitors were flagged with warnings.
"Due to the road closure on Highway 140, expect long wait times on Highway 41 at the south entrance to Yosemite National Park," the park said on Twitter, adding that "visitors who are sensitive to smoke should plan to limit any strenuous outdoor activities or plan to visit the park another time."
UCLA climatologist Daniel Swain warned that the fire is "likely to burn for many days and may eventually become a major threat" to the 1,200-square-mile park in the Sierra Nevada.
The flames burn brush and timber in steep, inaccessible terrain. Pacific Gas and Electric de-energized its power lines that run through the fire area, so there’s no electricity in the Yosemite, El Portal and Foresta regions.
More than 1 million acres across the country are part of active wildfires, according to federal officials. More than 3.3 million acres have been burned, slightly ahead of the national average over the past decade for this time of year.
Contributing: Mike Chapman, Trevor Hughes, Doyle Rice, USA TODAY NETWORK; The Associated Press