Weather should clear air in Yosemite National Park

September 8, 2013 

A helicopter drops its orange load of fire retardant on a southern portion of the Rim Fire burning on a ridge near the community of Greeley Hill Sunday evening (09-01-13).

ELIAS FUNEZ — Modesto Bee

— The Rim fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park grew more than 12,800 acres Monday, with smoke causing air quality issues inside the park. The fire had consumed more than 235,000 acres by nightfall Monday and was 70 percent contained.

"Smoke from the Rim fire has settled into Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Foresta and other areas, causing air quality impacts," according to the update at Inciweb.org. "This will persist for the next few days, particularly in the morning hours."

Wind shifts on Friday dumped smoke into Yosemite Valley, which on video streaming from webcams in the park appeared hazy with decreased visibility. Another shift in the wind was expected Monday or today, which should help clear the smoke out of the area, park ranger Kari Cobb said. There has been a noticeable decline in visitors to the park, she said, partly because of the fire's smoke but also because of road closures in the park.

Park officials are advising visitors to avoid strenuous activity and for those sensitive to smoke, to avoid being outside.

Crews are making good progress on the Rim fire, particularly on the northwest side of the blaze, though local winds sparked new spot fires and the fire is continuing to expand to the northeast, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino.

Winds have declined from last week, and a short rain shower Saturday night and higher humidity levels have helped mitigate some of the fire danger, he said.

"Any rain we get would be a tremendous asset," he said, adding that the drought conditions and rugged terrain have been challenging for firefighters.

The Rim fire has destroyed 111 structures, 11 of them residential, and is expected to be contained by Sept. 20, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. No structures in Yosemite have been lost.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the Rim fire, Augustino said, adding that progress had been made in the case but no additional details were available. Todd McNeal, a fire chief in Twain Harte, told a community meeting that an illegal marijuana-growing operation could have sparked the fire, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

"We don't know the exact cause," McNeal said. But he said at the meeting that it was "highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing."

"We know it's human caused. There was no lightning in the area," said McNeal, a former captain with the Sonora Fire Department who has fought fires for 23 years for the Forest Service, the National Park Service and other agencies in the Sierra Nevada.

His remarks, made Aug. 23, were video-recorded and posted on YouTube.

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