Firefighter Battling Yosemite Flames Killed in Bulldozer Accident

Yosemite, CA – A firefighter was killed over the weekend while operating a bulldozer, battling a forest fire burning near Yosemite National Park.

36-year-old Braden Varney, a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire, died at the scene as crews battled the Ferguson fire in the rugged area the Park, said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean.

Varney, of Mariposa, had served in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit for a decade.

McLean said the fire exploded overnight to 4,300 acres, forcing the closure of Highway 140 into the park and prompting evacuations of nearby communities. He said the fire is burning in rugged, steep terrain where “drought-stricken trees are providing plenty of fuel.”

The fire, which erupted late Friday, is burning in a wilderness area southwest of the park and has prompted evacuations in Briceburg, Cedar Lodge and Mariposa Pines north of Bear Clover. An evacuation advisory was also in effect Sunday for the Jerseydale area.

To reduce the fire danger, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Sunday switched off power lines serving the area, affecting parts of Yosemite, El Portal, and Foresta.

Last year, firefighter Cory Iverson died of burns and smoke inhalation while battling the Thomas fire in Ventura County.

McLean said he couldn’t recall firefighter deaths coming so close together in California in many years. He said that this year, tens of thousands more acres have burned in the state than last year.

Fire officials say Varney is survived by his wife and two small children.