TUOLUMNE COUNTY – The Rim Fire has now burned 133,980 acres on the Stanislaus National Forest and in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park.
Though the fire consumed another 8,000 acres since yesterday, fire officials report that good progress was made constructing and securing firelines along the southwestern, northwestern and northern portions overnight, and they now have 7% containment.
Evacuation advisories have been lifted for Pine Mountain Lake and Buck Meadows, however a forest closure is in effect for locations near and in advance of the fire. Evacuation advisories are still in effect for Tuolumne City and nearby areas along the Highway 108 corridor.
As with the recent Aspen Fire, inaccessible, steep terrain and active fire behavior have prompted the use of indirect attack on many areas of this fire. Dave Bartlett, Fire Behavior Analyst on the Aspen Fire, explained how this works.
“A tree or brush torches out and burns very quickly,” said Bartlett. “As those needles burn up, the tree can throw those embers quite a ways, starting spot fires ahead of itself.
On the Rim Fire, as was the case on the Aspen Fire, one of the issues faced by the Incident Command Team is that there are places they just can’t get to.
“We could see we weren’t going to be successful with direct attack, so we had to fall back to a bigger box,” said Bartlett of the Aspen Fire. “It just shows how dry it is out there.
“Since we’ve got all these spot fires out there, we can’t go out and put fire lines around each one of them. That’s the law of diminishing returns,” he said. “So we go out and put fire line around that whole group of them, and tie that line back in. Then we try to make sure that we hold that fireline until they all burn together, and stop the spread.”
When a fireline is cut out ahead of the fire, crews do what are called “burnouts.” This is not the same as a backfire operation.
“A burnout is just to burn along the edge of the line to make it wider,” Bartlett explained, “to make it more effective.”
Aerial resources are crucial to success on this type of incident. Air tankers are laying down retardant in advance of the fires spreading toward the Highway 108 corridor and along the eastern perimeter.
Fire officials are also concerned about forecasted high winds, which will bring a high potential for long range spotting, and a significant concern that the fire will advance beyond the retardant lines and allow it to spread west into the communities of Tuolumne City, Twain Harte and Long Barn, and east into the Hetch Hetchy Watershed.
There are now 2,846 personnel assigned to the incident, and 23 structures have been lost, with another 4,500 threatened. Two injuries have been reported and the cost to date is $12.4 million.
Highway 120 remains closed to all inbound and outbound Yosemite National Park traffic to Crane Flat. Also closed are Graham Ranch Road, Smith Station at Highway 120, Cherry Lake at Highway 120, and Evergreen Road. Highway 120 from Ferretti Road to Buck Meadows remains open only for local residents and business only.
Evacuated residents from Highway 120 east to Buck Meadows and residents of Pine Mountain Lake, with exception of Graham Ranch Road beyond the cattle guard, were allowed to return to their homes beginning on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 6 p.m. Residents along Graham Ranch Road, beyond the cattle guard, can expect to return as soon as fire conditions allow.
Only residents and those who can prove they have legitimate business in the area will be allowed in. Pacific Gas and Electric has restored electrical service to all areas of Pine Mountain Lake impacted by the Rim Fire, with the exception of residences along Graham Ranch Road beyond the cattle guard.
Residents are advised that areas burned by the Rim Fire may still pose hazards. Fire weakened trees, burning stump holes, and large fire apparatus may be present. Entry into the burned areas is strongly discouraged.
A forest closure order is in effect for the entire Groveland Ranger District and portions of the Mi-Wok District.
Residents experiencing problems with their electricity are encouraged to contact Pacific Gas and Electric at 1-866-743-5002.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at: 209-533-5815
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at: 209-966-3615