4,000 firefighters try to beat back flames as Yosemite fire grows

Road in Yosemite Park will close for several days

CNN News Wire | 8/28/2013, 1:58 p.m.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — These are scary times for the folks of Tuolumne, a picturesque northern California community threatened ...
The numbers are staggering and the prospects are absolutely scary as a massive California wildfire menaces Yosemite National Park and San Francisco's water supply. The tourist hotspot Yosemite Valley and its iconic attractions, including the El Capitan rock formation, currently are safe, miles from the Rim Fire's reach. However, the blaze continues to spread toward the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which serves 2.6 million customers in the Bay Area.

More evacuations possible

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, issued evacuation advisories for Tuolumne and nearby Ponderosa Hill, said InciWeb, a federal website that collects information from agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. It was not clear how many residents were covered by the evacuation advisory.

Evacuations also remained in place for areas south of Highway 120 (including Scotts Ridge), north of Old Yosemite Road and along the Highway 108 corridor between Tuolumne City and Pinecrest.

Authorities say the Rim Fire started on August 17. The cause is under investigation.

“There’s a lot of concern, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Bentley said.

Firefighters on Tuesday were able to build fire lines in several locations. The forecast is also looking favorable as daytime highs cool into the 70s over the Labor Day weekend — a break from the temperatures in the high 80s firefighters were facing Wednesday.

“Access and difficult terrain remain concerns for crews and equipment,” said an incident report. “Rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior are hampering suppression efforts.”

As many as 20 helicopters and air tankers were aiding the efforts.

A top priority is stopping the fire from spreading farther in Yosemite National Park.

A portion of Tioga Road in the park will be closed for several days beginning Wednesday so that firefighters can perform fire suppression.

The park has closed a few other roads, campgrounds and wildlife trails while restricting smoking and building camping or cooking fires in wilderness areas.

The Merced and Tuolumne giant sequoia groves, while not in imminent danger, were closed as firefighters conduct preventative measures to protect the majestic trees.

“The work that will be performed over the next few days is instrumental in suppressing the Rim Fire within Yosemite. The safety of the firefighters working along the road is our paramount concern,” park Superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement.

Tamarack Flat and Yosemite Creek campgrounds, both along Tioga Road, will remain closed.

Yosemite, with hundreds of campground sites and lodging units, had nearly 4 million visitors last year, the National Park Service said. The park typically has 15,000 visitors on a busy summer weekend.

While the Yosemite Conservancy says the Rim Fire has consumed tens of thousands of acres in the park, it has had little or no direct impact on Yosemite Valley, a popular spot for tourists and home to many of the famous cliffs and waterfalls in the park.

About 4,500 structures, many of them vacation homes, were under threat, InciWeb said. The fire has cost more than $20 million, Bentley said.

Thirty-one residences and 80 outbuildings have been destroyed.

CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin and Christopher Laible contributed to this report.

Gary Tuchman and Ed Payne |CNN