Rim fire now 80% contained

Some advisories lifted, but 120 remains closed

pguerra@modbee.comSeptember 3, 2013 

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UPDATE: The Rim fire grew roughly 1,500 acres overnight, authorities said Wednesday morning. The blaze had consumed 237,341 acres and remains 80 percent contained.

Firefighters continued to gain ground against the Rim fire Tuesday, bringing the giant blaze to 80 percent containment.

"It's going really well," said Pamela Baltimore, public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service, which is in joint command of the fire effort with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "Most of the work right now is in the southeast and northeast areas."

Authorities lifted evacuation advisories in Tuolumne County, following the earlier cancellation of advisories in Mariposa County. Several roads and campgrounds remain closed, including Highway 120 into Yosemite National Park.

The fire, which broke out Aug. 17, has consumed 235,841 acres, making it the fourth-largest in state history. The Zaca fire that burned in Santa Barbara in July 2007 is the third-largest, charring 240,207 acres.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Although several news organizations have reported that Twain Harte Fire and Rescue Chief Todd McNeal told a community meeting that it was "highly suspected" that an illegal marijuana growing operation had sparked the blaze, Baltimore discounted that as speculation.

"It could end up being that," she said, but at this point the cause has not been determined.

Battling the blaze, the largest in the United States this year, has cost $60 million in state and federal funds, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino said. Full containment is not expected until Sept. 20.

A total of 4,359 firefighters remained on the lines Tuesday, down from a high of more than 5,000. Baltimore attributed the drop in numbers to teams hitting 14-day limits rather than a reduced need. A new strike team is taking over command of the fire as the first one is demobilized.

Five firefighters have been injured, but Baltimore said none of the injuries are considered life-threatening.

"I know one of them is a dislocated shoulder," she said.

Hot, dry weather forecast

Back-burning efforts have been successful at limiting the fire's reach, and cooler temperatures with a few sprinkles Monday helped. But the forecast calls for hotter, drier conditions through this week.

Six other fires are burning in California, down from about a dozen last week, with more than 8,000 firefighting personnel deployed across the state, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

There has been an increase in fire activity in recent weeks, he said, because of dry conditions, gusty winds and dry lightning that sparked several hundred fires.

Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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