2 popular summer camps near Yosemite close due to smoky air

OAKLAND & LAKEPORT, Calif. (KTVU/AP) --  Two summer camps near Yosemite National Park popular with San Francisco area families have decided to evacuate due to smoky weather conditions from a massive wildfire. 

One by one, buses filled with children from Camp Tawonga pulled into Merritt College in Oakland where their parents waited. Many campers didn't want to leave.

"I'm upset. I cried yesterday. A lot of people did," said nine-year-old camper Naomi Bloom.

Tawonga is a Jewish camp that sits just outside Yosemite National Park. The 300 kids arrived just last Sunday for a 16-day stay in the great outdoors, but the 58,074-acre Ferguson Fire had other plans. 

While the fire is 30-percent contained and still eight miles south, Calfire's strategy is to set backfires to deprive Ferguson of fuel. 

The Health Department rated the air quality as very unhealthy. 

"The camper safety really is our number one priority. So we couldn't risk it. It was a no-brainer once the health department said the air quality wasn't safe for kids," said camp director Jamie Simon.

For parents, the sudden return of their kids caused them to do an about face, back to a full house.

"Probably most of the kids would have been fine. But for the subsection of kids who have underlying pulmonary issue, for me it was a logical decision," said Bryna Ross who was picking up her daughter.

The camp director says this is the first time in her 20 years a wildfire affected Tawonga. Yosemite area fires have typically come in late summer or fall.

It's another indication the fire season, and the smoke, is coming earlier and earlier in the season. 

"Yesterday it was fine. But this morning it was really, really, really, really, really bad," said nine-year-old Kylie VanKirk.

In all likelihood this is not the end of Camp Tawonga for the summer.

Portions of Yosemite National Park itself will remain closed though Sunday, August 5 due to poor air quality. Yosemite National Park announced Tuesday afternoon that Yosemite Valley and other areas would remain closed for that time because of active firefighting operations. 

The other areas include; Wawona Road, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, and Hetch Hetchy. 

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department said Tuesday it has temporarily closed Camp Mather, a campground for families near the park, due to poor air quality from nearby fires. The camp is scheduled to reopen Sunday if conditions improve.

Parks spokeswoman Sarah Madland said about 450 visitors to Camp Mather and 70 staff were affected, including 350 visitors asked to leave Tuesday and 100 who had canceled last week due to the air quality. All are to receive full refunds.

Aside from 300 campers, Camp Tawonga, evacuated 200 staff  members Tuesday and also hopes to resume camp on Sunday pending air quality improvements. 

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