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Meadow Fire: Helicoptered Out, A Hiker's Journey Up Half Dome

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Rachael Kirk
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Rachael Kirk and friends were trapepd on the top of Half Dome for over five hours Sunday September 7, 2014.
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Credit Rachael Kirk
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The Meadow Fire in Yosemite National Park is raging and forced over 185 hikers and climbers to be airlifted from Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome Sunday after the fire struck. Valley Public Radio Reporter Ezra David Romero spoke with one hiker whose regular hiking day turned into a helicopter ride over Yosemite Valley. 

Rachael Kirk, 26, knew there was a fire burning in Yosemite, because she saw it burning Saturday on a hike to Clouds Rest, a peak reaching just under 10,000 feet in Yosemite National Park. The little fire was lit by lighting a few weeks back.

“From Clouds Rest you could see the fire and we had read that it had been contained and it was really, really small looking,” Kirk says.

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Kirk and Romero talk about how fast the fire spread.

Authorities like park spokeswoman Kari Cobb think the blaze reported Sunday could have been started by the smaller fire.

“On Sunday we got reports that there was a new fire in the area just east of half dome and near little Yosemite Valley,” Kobb says. “It was initially reported at about 400 acres.”

"I got maybe 100 feet up (Half Dome) and decided it was too hard and I wasn't going to do it." -Rachael Kirk

But even still Kirk, from Oakland, and her two friends from college wanted to climb Half Dome, but didn’t have permits because of high demand.

"We had originally applied for Saturday and we were denied, but decided to enter Friday for Sunday and still go to Yosemite and hope for the best," Kirk says. "We actually got cell phone reception on top of Clouds Rest and our permits came through."

After hiking the over seven miles to the base of Half Dome Kirk and her two friends Alexa and Travis began the cable ascent up one of the most sought after treks on the globe.

“Alexa was too scared to do the cables so she stayed back,” Kirk says. “I got maybe 100 feet up and decided it was too hard and I wasn’t going to do it.”

"We had originally applied for Saturday and we were denied, but decided to enter Friday for Sunday and still go to Yosemite and hope for the best. We actually got cell phone reception on top of Clouds Rest and our permits came through." - Rachael Kirk

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Credit Rachael Kirk
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Over 185 hikers and climbers were rescued from Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome Sunday over a fiver hour period.

But when the blaze became too much Kirk and her friends were forced to climb the 400 feet to the makeshift helipad where she’d be rescued.    

“You had really advanced climbers and people who’d done Half Dome multiple times or people who just weren’t scared who were coaching everyone through it,” Kirks says. “There was one woman who had severely freaked out on the way up and someone had strapped her in with a rope to a carabineer and basically carried her up the mountain.”
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Listen for Kirk's description of the effort to evacuate the 85 people off Half Dome.

For Kirk the climb turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime.

“I actually was lucky enough to do a helicopter ride of the Grand Canyon and I can honestly say that doing a helicopter ride of Yosemite was . . . I don’t want to say 10 times more beautiful but was definitely a unique and amazing experience,” Kirk says.

And Kobb with Yosemite says a public helicopter ride over the park does not happen often.

“I actually talked to a couple people who were able to be helicoptered off of Half Dome and even Little Yosemite Valley and even though their hiking trips got cut short they still got this once in a lifetime amazing experience on a helicopter flying over Yosemite Valley,” Kobb says.

And for those 185 hikers and climbers who were helicoptered out Sunday they witnessed a view that very few do.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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