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Weekend Weather Could Foil Yosemite Fire Progress

August 30, 2013

By The San Francisco Chronicle

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SONORA, Tuolumne COUNTY -- Fire crews on Friday fought back flames near Highway 108 outside Yosemite National Park, reporting progress against the giant Rim Fire in an area where homes and towns face the greatest threat.

Evacuation advisories were lifted for the communities of Tuolumne City and Soulsbyville, above the Gold Rush-era city of Sonora, and fire officials reported no damage to buildings in the nearby foothills in more than two days. Containment of the 315-square-mile wildfire has risen to 32 percent, officials said.

Firefighters are hoping for full containment within three weeks.

Still, warmer weather and lower humidity expected Friday and through the weekend could upend recent success on the fire lines, officials said.

"We are making good progress on the fronts that bump up against communities," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But "the dryer conditions have the potential for the fire activity to pick up."

More than 4,500 homes remained threatened, while 111 structures have been destroyed, mostly small cabins and outbuildings.

The Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17 in a remote section of the Stanislaus National Forest near the town of Groveland, has since ballooned into California`s fifth largest fire on record.

Smoke from the blaze has poured north into the Lake Tahoe area and Reno -- and just as the Labor Day weekend approaches. Travelers have begun rethinking plans to visit the Sierra.

In Yosemite, where the fire has burned about 6 percent of the park, campground cancellations have been rolling in, park officials said. Because most of Yosemite remains open and free of smoke, however, vacant camp sites have been snatched up.

Highway 120, the main artery through the park, is closed from the park entrance to near White Wolf, and Tioga Pass can be accessed only from the park`s east side. Yosemite Valley remains open and is accessible via Highway 140 from Merced and Highway 41 from Fresno.

Firefighters have slowed the advance of flames in the national park. For the past two days, the fire expanded by just 2,000 acres per day compared to at least triple that in prior days, officials said.

The Hetch Hetchy area of the park is burning and remains closed to the public. The popular Tuolumne and Merced sequoia groves also are closed, though the fire has not reached those sites.

The cause of the blaze is not known.

Evacuation advisories remain in place for the community of Ponderosa Hills, near Tuolumne City, and along Highway 108 near Pinecrest.

Evacuation orders are in effect south of Highway 120, near Groveland.

The Rim Fire is one of 10 major wildfires currently burning in California. More than half of the 9,300 firefighters working statewide are at this fire.

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(c)2013 The San Francisco Chronicle

Copyright 1SF 2013

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Story image: In this photo provided by the California Army National Guard smoke from the Rim fire billows near Yosemite National Park, Calif. AP Photo/U.S. California Air National Guard, Master Sgt. Julie Avey

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