Massive wildfire prompts new travel restrictions through Yosemite

Scorched roadside reflectors stand near a smoldering forest at the Rim Fire just outside of Yosemite National Park, California, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/David McNew
Scorched roadside reflectors stand near a smoldering forest at the Rim Fire just outside of Yosemite National Park in California on Wednesday.
Credit: Reuters

Firefighters determined to keep a massive blaze from raging into the heart of California’s Yosemite National Park have shut down half of its main east-west corridor, just days before a holiday weekend marking the end of the peak summer tourist season.

A long stretch of Tioga Road through the western half of the park was closed on Wednesday as fire crews tightened their grip on the blaze, extending containment lines around 30 percent of the wildfire’s perimeter by the end of its 12th day.

The so-called Rim Fire has blackened about 192,500 acres, or more than 300 square miles, of dry scrub and timberlands, mostly in the Stanislaus National Forest west of the park. Its cause is still being investigated.

The firefighting force of more than 4,500 is backed by teams of bulldozers, water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying payloads of flame-retardant chemicals.

The battle inside Yosemite is focused largely on preventing flames from advancing any farther toward the core of the park, famed for its towering rock formations, waterfalls, meadows and pine forests.

Some 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, most of them during the peak months of June through August. Park officials said they have already noticed a decline in the crowds of visitors typically seen in late summer.

Bigger than Chicago

With an overall footprint that exceeds the land mass of Chicago, the blaze ranks as the sixth-largest California wildfire on record.

As of Wednesday less than a quarter of the total burned landscape, about 43,000 acres, lay inside Yosemite, confined to the northwest corner of the 750,000-acre park.

Earlier this week, flames closed in on the park’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the water consumed by San Francisco and several other communities some 200 miles to the west.

But utility officials said there was little risk to the artificial lake because of the rocky terrain and lack of brush surrounding it.

On the opposite end of the sprawling fire zone west of Yosemite, crews fought to keep flames away from some 4,500 homes in a string of small communities along the fringe of the Stanislaus National Forest, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Matheson.

Most of those dwellings have been ordered evacuated or were under advisories urging residents to leave voluntarily or be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

The fire has already destroyed dozens of homes and cabins, but no serious injuries have been reported.

Defending Yosemite’s core

Matheson said rugged, hard-to-reach terrain was hindering efforts to carve additional fire breaks around the blaze, and he estimated it would take another week to fully enclose it.

“I think it’s very safe to say that we’re looking at least at the first week of September,” Matheson said. “A lot of it is footwork, creating containment lines by hand.”

The flames last week forced the closure of a stretch of Highway 120 that leads into the west side of the park and serves as the main gateway from the San Francisco Bay area.

On Wednesday, the closure was extended eastward along 120, also called Tioga Road, as far as Yosemite Creek midway through the park. But the rest of the road through Yosemite’s only east entrance remained open, along with two other gates that allow access from other directions in the southern half of the park.

The expanded closure of Highway 120 — the only east-west route that completely bisects the park — was imposed to allow fire crews to establish new containment lines along the road before the blaze approaches, said Yosemite spokesman Tom Medema.

“That will limit the access for visitors to and from the east side of the park, quite possibly over Labor Day weekend, which will have a significant economic impact on the area and (be)an inconvenience for visitors,” he said.

Several campgrounds and trails, along with two landmark groves of giant sequoia trees, also were closed to the public.

Firefighters also planned to burn containment lines from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir south to Tioga Road in a bid to keep the fire from creeping further east into the park, Medema said.

The blaze has been among the fastest-moving of dozens of large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West in recent weeks, straining national firefighting resources.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sister of accused Boston Marathon bombers arrested for…

The sister of the accused Boston Marathon bombers was arrested in New York City for threatening a woman over the phone, saying she could "put a bomb on you," police…

Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Labor Day in NYC: Make the last weekend…

Soon, it’ll be time for wool accessories and knee-high boots. Even the Pumpkin Spice Latte has already arrived — but we still have one last…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…