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California firefighter dies battling blaze near Yosemite

By Susan McFarland
California firefighter dies battling blaze near Yosemite
Firefighters battle the Valley Fire Sunday in San Bernardino County, Calif., one of several wildfires burning thousands of acres across the state. On Saturday, a firefighter died while battling the state's newest fire, the Ferguson Fire, a fire that was reported Friday near near Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy Cal Fire/Facebook

July 14 (UPI) -- A California firefighter died Saturday while battling a blaze near Yosemite National Park, the statewide fire authority said.

Braden Varney, 36, a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire, died on site after a bulldozer rolled while fighting the Ferguson Fire. He leaves behind a wife and two small children, Cal Fire said.

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Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said Varney "was a community member. That's where he lived, protecting the area where he grew up."

Varney, with Cal Fire's Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit for a decade, was fighting the Ferguson Fire, one of the newest of dozens of wildfires burning across California and the West.

The fire was reported late Friday and has burned about 130 acres in the Sierra National Forest near El Portal, close to the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite. It was 5 percent contained Saturday morning.

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

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Last year, firefighter Cory Iverson died of burns and smoke inhalation while fighting Ventura County's Thomas fire.

On Thursday the County Fire, the largest wildfire burning in California, was nearly 100 percent contained, fire officials said. It has burned 90,288 acres in Napa and Yolo counties.

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