TUOLUMNE COUNTY — Authorities lifted evacuation advisories for residents near Groveland on Saturday, but others remain in place for thousands as firefighters continue to battle the Rim fire.
Residents evacuated from Highway 120 east to Buck Meadows and from Pine Mountain Lake can return to their homes, except those in about 18 residences on Graham Ranch and Clements roads.
Tuolumne County sheriff's Sgt. Scott Johnson said authorities will restrict access in Pine Mountain Lake areas 11, 11A and 12, except to residents. Highway 120 remains closed east of Groveland.
Evacuation advisories remain in place for Tuolumne City, Ponderosa Hills, Soulsbyville, Willow Springs and other communities along the Highway 108 corridor east of Sonora.
The Rim fire started Aug. 17 near Groveland in the Stanislaus National Forest. Because of technical difficulties, updated information on the fire's size was not available as of 9 p.m. Saturday from Rim fire public information office.
But a tweet from Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said it had grown to 129,620 acres as of Saturday night and was at 7 percent containment.
Twenty-three homes and other buildings had been destroyed as of Saturday morning, with 5,500 structures threatened. Cost of fighting the fire has been put at $7.8 million so far.
Since the Rim fire started nine days ago, sheriff's deputies have issued about 6,000 evacuation advisories and about 260 mandatory evacuations in a county of about 55,000 residents.
Johnson said it's difficult to say how many residents have been affected by the advisory and mandatory evacuations because of the prevalence of second and vacation homes in the county.
He said 207 people had checked into the temporary Red Cross shelter at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. But he expected some would leave because the evacuation advisories had been lifted for the Groveland area.
The fire has spread east into Yosemite National Park and west to near the Tuolumne City area.
Protecting giant sequoias
The Associated Press reported officials were clearing brush and setting sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.
The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on Earth.
The Tuolumne and Merced groves are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.
"We're not looking at them as any kind of immediate threat, but we're taking precautions," park spokesman Scott Gediman told The AP.
More than 2,600 firefighters and other personnel have been assigned to the fire, including 60 deputies and police officers from Stanislaus County.
Johnson said some residents do not want to leave their homes for fear of being burglarized. But he said the additional Stanislaus deputies and officers allow the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department to provide extra patrols in communities under evacuation advisories.
The BigLots and Wal-Mart stores in the Sanguinetti Road shopping center in Sonora were closed Saturday because of the fire. The website MyMotherLode.com reported Wal-Mart closed because of "poor indoor air quality."
The fire has caused air quality problems throughout the county. The Health Department has advised those with chronic health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, to take such precautions as limiting their time outdoors when the air is unhealthy.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.