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
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.