Rim fire grows, moves into Yosemite

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 23, 2013 

— Sheriff's deputies went door to door Friday to the roughly 1,600 homes in Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills, advising residents to leave as the Rim fire raged toward them and grew into one of the largest wildfires in California history.

Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Johnson said the evacuation advisory also applied to other communities east of Sonora, including Soulsbyville and Willow Springs. But residents in those communities were notified by reverse 911.

Johnson estimated Friday's advisory affected several thousand residents.

Since the Rim fire started eight days ago near Groveland in the Stanislaus National Forest, sheriff's deputies have issued about 6,000 evacuation advisories and about 260 mandatory evacuations in a county with about 55,000 residents. The other evacuations were in the Groveland area.

The wildfire had grown to more than 125,000 acres as of Fridayevening. As the fire marched west toward Tuolumne City, it also moved east into Yosemite National Park, burning about 11,000 acres inside the park. Highway 120 into Yosemite remained closed.

The fire was at 5 percent containment.

Friday's acreage was an estimate based on reports from firefighters fighting the blaze. A more accurate estimate will be released this morning based on an analysis of infrared images of the fire taken overnight from aircraft.

The fire is threatening more than 5,500 homes in the Groveland and Tuolumne City areas. It has destroyed four homes, 12 outbuildings and three commercial buildings. There have been no deaths or major injuries.

'We're packed up ...'

Earlier Friday, several Tuolumne City residents were preparing for the worst but planned to stay.

"We're packed up, but I'm not going until they make us," said Mia Devoto as she and three of her children loaded their cars with family photos and other keepsakes. She estimated the fire was about five miles away.

"I've lived here for 30 years," Devoto continued. "We had a couple (of wildfires) before, in '87 and '97. But probably not this close. We're just going to have to wait and see."

The Rim fire made an odd homecoming for Devoto's son, Brad Easley. The 24-year-old Army military policeman is on two weeks' leave after serving in Afghanistan. "It doesn't matter," Easley said, happy to be home anyway.

The Red Cross shelter at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora took in 102 evacuees Thursday night. Red Cross spokesman Jordan Scott said shelter workers were expecting 400 to 500 on Friday night as the number of evacuations grew.

The Red Cross is not the only agency gearing up.

As of Friday morning, Tuolumne County Animal Control had taken in 19 cats and five dogs from pet owners who had evacuated. This was in addition to the more than 80 cats and dogs and rabbits already at the shelter.

"Our phones are ringing off the hook," Animal Control Manager Jennifer Clarke said.

Animal Control can't take livestock, so staff members have been working to place livestock threatened by the fire with people who have volunteered to take in the goats, chickens, horses and other animals. More than 100 animals have been placed, including one bison.

Clarke said this is an example of how Tuolumne County residents help one another in tough times.

The Rim fire is among the 20 largest recorded California wildfires by acreage, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire has exploded in size, from about 2,500 acres Monday. Fire officials say it has spread so fast because of a dry winter that made brush and trees vulnerable to fire. The steep terrain has made firefighting difficult.

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