By morning, the tally of charred landscape from the so-called Rim Fire surpassed 200,000 acres, or nearly 315 square miles, three-quarters of that in the Stanislaus National Forest west of the park, fire officials said. However, a second straight night of cooling temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters extend containment lines around nearly a third of the fire’s perimeter by the start of its 14th day.
With an overall footprint that now exceeds the land mass of Kansas City, Missouri, the blaze ranks as the fifth-largest California wildfire on record. In terms of acreage burned, it also stands as the largest of dozens of wildfires that have raged across several states in the drought-parched west this year, straining U.S. firefighting resources A force of nearly 5,000 personnel are now assigned to the Rim Fire, mostly ground crews laboring around the clock with hand tools, chain saws and torches to cut fire breaks in the rugged terrain by clearing away unburned trees and dry brush.
They were supported by teams of bulldozers, water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying payloads of flame-retardant chemicals. Less than a quarter of the total burned acreage from the blaze lies inside Yosemite, and firefighters there have succeeded in limiting most of the damage to wilderness and backcountry areas in the park’s remote northwestern corner.
The most popular portions of the park remained open to the public, including the scenic Yosemite Valley area famed for its towering granite rock formations, waterfalls, meadows and pine forests.
The current slump in visitation has in turn put a severe crimp in Yosemite-area businesses whose proprietors were counting on a healthy summer season after last year’s hantavirus outbreak frightened away many tourists. “We’re laying off just about everybody, something like 45 employees,” Chris Loh, 38, who owns the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, a gateway town 20 miles west of Yosemite, said on Thursday.
“This is devastating for not just the businesses but the employees and the community,” he told Reuters.
One notable casualty was the Strawberry Music Festival, an annual bluegrass jamboree that draws some 5,000 weekend guests to the area but was canceled when the site of the event, Camp Mather just outside the park, was closed, organizers said.
Some 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, most of them during the peak months of June through August.
The fire has destroyed dozens of homes and cabins in the region, but no serious injuries have been reported.