Sierra fire is largest in U.S., at 213,414 acres

pguerra@modbee.comSeptember 1, 2013 

Western Wildfire Yosemite

Firefighter Brandon Wenger stands along Highway 120 while monitoring a backburn during the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for the explosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say. The fire had ravaged 282 square miles by Tuesday, the biggest in the Sierra's recorded history and one of the largest on record in California. (AP Photo/ Jae C. Hong)

JAE C. HONG — AP

— As the Rim fire moved into first place among fires nationally this year, authorities cautioned that a hot holiday weekend could complicate firefighting efforts, and officials issued a bad-air alert.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire reached 213,414 acres as of Friday evening, two weeks after its Aug. 17 start. It's the largest fire in the United States this year, surpassing the Lime Hills fire in Alaska, which consumed 201,809 acres. Historically, the Rim fire ranks fifth on the list of California's largest fires.

Nearly 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, making good progress in slowing its growth, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for CalFire, in a news release. But with temperatures expected to rocket toward the triple digits and campers heading out for the traditional last weekend of summer, authorities remain worried.

"CalFire is urging Californians to be extra careful with their outdoor plans this holiday weekend, as fire activity and fire danger remain high statewide," Berlant said.

Friday, smoky conditions from the Rim fire prompted a cautionary statement from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties. The alert urges caution for those who suffer from lung or heart problems, as well as children and older adults.

Authorities listed containment of the fire at 35 percent and stayed with their estimate of full containment on Sept. 20.

Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs residents were allowed to go home Thursday when authorities lifted the evacuation advisory. But residents from Ponderosa Hills and areas east, along the south side of Highway 108 up to Pinecrest, as well as north of Bull Creek Road, Bondurant Mine Road, Texas Hill Road and Wampum Hill, remain under an evacuation advisory. Those living north of Old Yosemite Road are under a mandatory evacuation.

An evacuation center at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds served as many as 180 people a night. That dropped to about 43 briefly and now stands at about 60.

The U.S. Forest Service also compiled a fact sheet about the fire:

• States that have sent firefighters or other help: 41 and the District of Columbia

• Total aviation hours: 14,400

• Water dropped: 1.4 million gallons

• Fire retardant dropped: 1.7 million gallons

• Cost: $47 million

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