Sierra's Rim fire becomes the biggest to burn in U.S. this year

pguerra@modbee.comAugust 30, 2013 

UPDATE: As of Saturday morning, the Rim fire had grown to 219,277 acres, and was 35 percent contained. The blaze grew 6,000 acres overnight. CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said the fire remains the fifth-largest in California history but likely will move up to the No. 4 spot by this evening.

the Rim fire moved into first place among fires nationally this year, authorities cautioned that a hot holiday weekend could complicate firefighting efforts, and officials issued a bad-air alert.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire reached 213,414 acres as of Friday evening, two weeks after its Aug. 17 start. It's the largest fire in the United States so far this year, surpassing the Lime Hills Fire in Alaska, which consumed 201,809 acres. Historically, the Rim fire ranks fifth on the list of California's largest fires.

Nearly 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, making good progress in slowing its growth, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire, in a news release. But with temperatures expected to rocket toward the triple digits and campers heading out for the traditional last weekend of summer, authorities remain worried.

"Cal Fire is urging Californians to be extra careful with their outdoor plans this holiday weekend, as fire activity and fire danger remain high statewide," Berlant said. "Anyone going outdoors or camping this weekend should take every precaution to avoid sparking a wildfire."

Friday, smoky conditions from the Rim fire prompted a cautionary statement from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties. The alert urges caution for those who suffer from lung or heart problems, as well as children and older adults.

Authorities listed containment of the fire at 35 percent and stayed with their estimate of full containment on Sept. 20.

Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs residents were allowed to go home Thursday when authorities lifted the evacuation advisory. But residents from Ponderosa Hills and areas east, along the south side of Highway 108 up to Pinecrest, as well as north of Bull Creek Road, Bondurant Mine Road, Texas Hill Road and Wampum Hill, remain under an evacuation advisory. Those living north of Old Yosemite Road are under a mandatory evacuation.

An evacuation center at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds served as many as 180 people a night. That dropped to about 43 briefly and now stands at about 60.

The U.S. Forest Service also compiled a fact sheet about the fire:

• States that have sent firefighters or other help: 41 and the District of Columbia

• Total aviation hours: 14,400

• Water dropped: 1.4 million gallons

• Fire retardant dropped: 1.7 million gallons

• Cost: $47 million

• Percentage of the fire burning within the Stanislaus National Forest: 74.6

• Percentage of the fire burning in Yosemite National Park: 24

• Percentage of Yosemite National Park within the fire perimeter: 6.4

Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this report.

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