Official: Firefighters to protect Yosemite ‘no matter what it takes’
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California (CNN) — Susan Loesch and Curtis Evans just started settling into their second home in California’s Sierra foothills a few months ago. Now, they’re worried it could go up in smoke as a massive wildfire spreads.
“This is kind of a little paradise up here for us. … To think this would all be gone would be devastating,” Evans told CNN Sunday.
Cradling their chihuahua, Cuervo, they prepared to leave the area on Sunday as more than 2,800 crew members struggled to corral the sprawling Rim Fire, which had devoured nearly 134,000 acres.
“It’s scary,” Loesch said. “You worry about the firefighters being on the line. … It’s overwhelming.”
The wildfire, which remained 7% contained, was spreading primarily to the northeast and east and threatened to grow amid extremely dry conditions and hot weather.
After days of battling the blaze, things were looking up on Sunday, said Vickie Wright, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“We’re a long way from complete,” she said, “but at least our boots on the ground are getting a better handle on it.”
A top priority is stopping the fire from spreading further in Yosemite National Park.
“The park is a national treasure,” she said, “so no matter what it takes, we’re going to do everything in our power to protect that park.”
While the Rim Fire had consumed 12,000 acres in the northwest section of the park by Saturday, so far it has had little or no direct impact on Yosemite Valley, a popular spot for tourists and home to many of the famous cliffs and waterfalls in the park.
About 4,500 structures, many of them vacation homes, were under threat, according to InciWeb, a federal website that collects information from agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Several helicopters and air tankers were aiding firefighting efforts.
The inferno threatened the Yosemite gateway communities of Groveland and Pine Mountain Lake just outside the Stanislaus National Forest.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, issued evacuation advisories for the town of Tuolumne and nearby Ponderosa Hill, according to InciWeb. It was not clear how many residents were covered by the evacuation advisory.
Authorities say the Rim Fire started on August 17. The cause is under investigation.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman told CNN on Saturday that the Rim Fire’s impact was restricted to a park entrance closure at Highway 120 West and a backcountry section used by hikers.
The park typically has 15,000 visitors on a busy summer weekend. August sees an influx of visitors from other countries, a few of whom have called to check on conditions.
Still, there’s little indication so far it’s keeping many people away.
Ranger programs went on as normal Saturday and campgrounds were full.
“If somebody cancels, there are 10 people that will take their spot,” said Gediman.
Yosemite, with hundreds of campground sites and lodging units, had nearly 4 million visitors last year, according to the National Park Service.
From Nick Valencia. Catherine E. Shoichet and Phil Gast
CNN’s Nick Valencia reported from Yosemite National Park and Catherine E. Shoichet and Phil Gast reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.