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Holiday trips on hold because of Sierra fire

  • In this Aug. 24, 2013 file photo, Black Oak Casino general manager Ron Patel walks the nearly empty gambling room floor due to the nearby fires in Tuolomne City, Calif. (AP Photo/The Modesto Bee, Elias Funez, File)

SACRAMENTO — With the last big travel weekend of the summer arriving, some nervous tourists are keeping an eye on the huge Sierra Nevada wildfire, wondering whether it will interfere with their travel plans to destinations like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.

Those who keep their hard-to-get Labor Day lodging reservations in Yosemite will enjoy a pleasant surprise: stunning views of the towering granite icons Half Dome and El Capitan with less of the usual holiday congestion.

The park has seen some reservation cancellations and some nearby mountain communities have had a serious drop-off in business due to the 315-square-mile Rim Fire, which was 32 percent contained Friday morning. More than 20,000 acres of the fire are along the northern edge of the national park.

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But 20 miles upwind in Yosemite Valley, the sky is clear and not even the scent of smoke is in the air.

Park officials expect about 3,000 cars a day to pass through gates this weekend instead of the nearly 5,000 that might typically show on the holiday. Most of the missing will be day tourists, not folks who have waited months and even years for a campsite along the Merced River or a room at the historic Ahwahnee Lodge.

"We've had minimal cancellations, and when we do we fill them immediately," said park spokesman Scott Gediman. "The campsites are full and there are plenty of people, but because of the publicity we're slower."

It's a familiar pattern of panic, cancellation and rebooking in the rugged national park that has been shaped by all manner of disaster. In years past, when boulders tumbling from 3,000-foot granite monoliths have sent tourists scrambling, or when a mouse-borne illness killed tent cabin guests, cancellations poured in.

But the park never has enough lodging for the 4 million tourists who visit annually, so vacant rooms rarely go unfilled for long.

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