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Firefighter killed while battling blaze near Yosemite National Park

Traffic backs up along the valley floor at Yosemite National Park on July 16, 2017. A firefighter was killed on Saturday, July 14, 2018, while battling a wildfire in the nearby Sierra National Forest. (Brian vander Brug/Los Angeles Times//TNS)
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A firefighter was killed Saturday morning while battling a wildfire in the Sierra National Forest, officials said.

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

Varney, 36, of Mariposa, had served in Cal Fire’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit for a decade. He left behind a wife and two young children, according to the agency.

“He was a community member. That’s where he lived, protecting the area where he grew up,” McLean said.

McLean said Varney’s death is still under investigation. Varney’s job involved operating bulldozers, and he was working on the line with teams trying to contain the fire when he was killed, McLean said. The area where firefighters were working is generally inaccessible, with rough and steep terrain.

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The Ferguson fire, which started about 10:30 p.m. Friday near El Portal in Mariposa County, had burned 130 acres and was 5 percent contained as of Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire.

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 this year, tens of thousands more acres have burned in the state than last year.

“We’re talking very extreme fire behavior,” he said. “Everybody just needs to be so careful.”

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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