Firefighters struggling in rough terrain to tame massive blaze near Yosemite
Author: Laila Kearney
Firefighters struggling with rough terrain sought to gain ground against a raging wildfire that on Thursday reached the western edge of Yosemite National Park, one of America's premiere outdoor destinations, a fire official said.
The blaze burning mostly in the Stanislaus National Forest in Northern California just outside Yosemite tripled in size overnight to cover 54,000 acres and has led officials to call on thousands of residents to evacuate.
The blaze is the fourth-largest and fastest growing wildfire in the nation, said National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Robyn Broyles. It is one of 50 large wildfires burning throughout the U.S. West.
The fire has destroyed two homes and seven outbuildings since it broke out on Saturday. It was only 2 percent contained despite efforts of more than 1,360 firefighters to tame it, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino.
California Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday declared a state of emergency in Tuolumne County, where the fire is burning.
Augustino said the Rim Fire, named after a popular lookout point, Rim of the World, is burning on rugged and remote terrain, which has made it challenging for firefighters to haul in hoses.
"The terrain is so difficult that you can't go into direct attack," Augustino said, adding that he expected a lot more firefighters to arrive on Friday as reinforcements.
The fire on Thursday spread onto the western edge of Yosemite National Park, Augustino said, but he could not immediately provide further details.
On Wednesday, the fire had been 5 percent contained and ranged across only 16,000 acres, but it more than tripled in size overnight and the containment level fell.
Some 19 recreational areas in Stanislaus National Forest, including campgrounds and recreational vehicle campsites, have been evacuated due to the fire.
Separately, 2,500 homes in the area have received evacuation advisories, which strongly urge residents to leave but do not make that mandatory, said Tuolumne County Sheriff's Sergeant Scott Johnson. Typically, about 75 percent of residents evacuate after receiving such an advisory, he said.
Two evacuation centers were set up for residents, Augustino said.
"There are a lot of little pockets of residences throughout this area," he said, adding that the fire has started to spread to private land.
Yosemite National Park, spanning 750,000 acres attracted nearly 4 million visitors in 2012, according to the park website. It is famous for its valleys, waterfalls and polished domes.
Park officials on Tuesday were forced to stop westbound traffic on Highway 120, one of four access routes to the park, due to the fire. But as of Thursday morning they had no plans to close the park, said Yosemite park ranger Scott Gediman.
The cause of the Rim Fire is unknown and under investigation, Augustino said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Bill Trott)