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Yosemite Fire Spreads and Tourists Scaling Back Activities in Valley

Sep 01, 2013 4:59 am


Modesto’s Jessy Boonstra, from Ripon Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, carries a box of home baked cookies she brought along with Ripon Fire Chief and San Joaquin County Operational Area Coordinator Dennis Bitters, on a surprise visit to a strike team of San Joaquin County firefighters working along Forest Service road 31 behind Long Barn off of Hwy 108 Wednesday afternoon (08-28-13). AP Photo/Elias Funez, The Modesto Bee

This Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 image provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a member of the BLM Silver State Hotshot crew using a drip torch to set back fires on the southern flank of the Rim Fire in California. The blaze has scorched 343 square miles of brush, oaks and pines and 11 homes, as of Saturday Aug. 31, 2013. AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service

A tanker drops retardant on the Rim Fire in this undated United States Forest Service handout photo near Yosemite National Park, California, released to Reuters August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike McMillan/U.S. Forest Service/Handout

A firefighter and his pump rig stops at the Rim Fire at night in this undated United States Forest Service handout photo near Yosemite National Park, California, August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike McMillan/U.S. Forest Service

The Rim Fire burns at night in this undated United States Forest Service handout photo near Yosemite National Park, California, released to Reuters August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike McMillan

For the first time since a wildfire broke out around Yosemite National Park, dense smoke has begun to obscure the region’s majestic mountain views, park officials say.

The smoke from the two-week-old fire that shrouded parts of Yosemite Valley Saturday also hampered firefighting efforts.

“I’m in Yosemite Valley right now, and I cannot see the cliffs around me,” spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. “The wind has shifted and smoke is impacting the entire park. We have been lucky until now.”

All the campgrounds in the Valley still were full as of Saturday morning, despite the thick blanket and burning smell that permeated the area and was expected to linger until at least Monday, she said.

As a health precaution, visitors were being asked to scale back their outdoor recreation plans and avoid strenuous activities or even stay indoors.

Meanwhile, firefighting aircraft were grounded most of the morning because of low visibility caused by the smoke, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mark Healey said. The blaze had scorched 348 square miles of brush, oaks and pines and 11 homes, as of Saturday, an area larger than the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose combined.

Of that total, 94 square miles of wilderness have burned in the northern section of Yosemite, up from 75 square miles a day earlier.

The fire was 40 percent contained.

Although containment efforts proceeded on a positive note overnight, officials became concerned Saturday about a 150-acre spot fire that crossed a road and prompted an evacuation order for homes near the west entrance of Yosemite, Healey said.

Once planes and water-dropping helicopters were cleared to take off again, the worry lifted some along with the evacuation order.

“Air operations are going full-blast to bring this fire under control,” Healey said late Saturday afternoon.

The cause of the fire, which started August 17 and has claimed the most acreage in the Stanislaus National Forest, is under investigation.

Healey said fresh firefighters were being brought in to replace tired crews, but that officials did not plan to reduce the nearly 5,000 people assigned to the blaze.

The wildfire is the largest now burning in the United States and is the fifth-largest in California history.

Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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