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  • Andy Alfaro / The Modesto Bee

    Molly McGee, a firefighter with a Colorado crew, attacks flames with water Thursday in Stanislaus National Forest, west of Yosemite National Park. The Rim fire has consumed nearly 64,000 acres and threatens about 2,500 homes near Groveland.

  • Andy Alfaro / The Modesto Bee

    The Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest was just 1 percent contained on Thursday.

Fire expands near Yosemite National Park

Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013 - 2:29 pm

GROVELAND – The Rim fire continued to devour thousands of acres of brush, pine and oak trees as it burned out of control near Yosemite National Park.

The wildfire had consumed 63,366 acres as of Thursday and threatened 2,500 homes around Pine Mountain Lake near Groveland. Containment was at 1 percent as more than 1,800 firefighters and other personnel battled the blaze in the Stanislaus National Forest.

The blaze was expected to continue up the Tuolumne River canyon and spread north and east.

Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Hanvelt said there had not been a fire of this magnitude in the county since the Stanislaus Complex fire a quarter-century ago.

In the summer of 1987, dry weather and parched vegetation were the catalysts for a dry-lightning fire that burned 147,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest. The blaze killed one firefighter and forced the evacuation of almost 2,000 people from their mountain homes.

"This is running the same footprint as the 1987 complex fire," Hanvelt said. "It has the potential of being very, very dangerous. But we have the best possible teams involved. Cal Fire is doing a great job."

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for Tuolumne County at county officials' request.

Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro said in a news release that the declaration "opens the doors for additional state resources" for firefighting and recovery. The declaration also allows the county to seek federal aid.

The Rim fire started Saturday in a remote area near Groveland. It nearly quadrupled in size from Wednesday to Thursday, growing from more than 16,000 acres to 63,366 acres. Highway 120 into Yosemite remains closed.

It has destroyed two homes, seven outbuildings and three commercial buildings.

The fire has shrouded much of the county in smoke, leaving some people with stinging eyes, scratchy throats and breathing trouble.

The county's Public Health Department is advising vulnerable people, such as the elderly, to limit their time outdoors.

Sonora schools are taking precautions with their students, such as keeping them indoors when the air quality is poor.

Officials have closed campgrounds along Highway 120 and asked residents living near Pine Mountain Lake to consider leaving their homes.

On Thursday evening, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department issued an evacuation order for residents north of Ferretti Road to Elderberry Road.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. Fifty-eight people spent Wednesday there, and officials expected more on Thursday evening.

Bob and Shirley Haliwell left their Pine Mountain Lake home and spent Wednesday night in their travel trailer at the fairgrounds.

They had planned to take a trip through Idaho, Montana, Canada, Washington and Oregon.

But they have reconsidered that now that much of the western United States is on fire and their home remains at risk.

"We don't want to leave without knowing what will happen," Bob Haliwell, 69, said.

"And I really don't want to go to Idaho with all that smoke and fire."

Three wildfires have burned nearly 400,000 acres in Idaho.

So the Haliwells will stay put at the fairgrounds along with other Pine Mountain Lake neighbors.

"This is a great place," Bob Haliwell said. "It has full hookups (for recreational vehicles and travel trailers), is centrally located, and a lot of our friends are here."

Others stayed with their Pine Mountain Lake homes.

Wayne Wilkins, 67, did not want to leave, though he had taken precautions by moving his recreational vehicle and two horses out of harm's way.

He also had packed his and wife Merrily's keepsakes and other valuables in case he had to leave in a hurry.

Flames got to within 5 miles of their home on Wednesday before firefighters knocked down the blaze.

"If they come by and say it's a mandatory evacuation, I'm ready to go," Wilkins said.

STRAWBERRY MUSIC FESTIVAL CANCELED

Because of the Rim fire, the Strawberry Music Festival will not take place on Labor Day weekend at Camp Mather near Yosemite National Park.

The roots music festival posted on its Facebook page Thursday afternoon the following announcement from the Tuolumne County Community Resources Agency and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors:

"Due to the ongoing state of emergency and the potential adverse effects of the wildfire on public health, safety and welfare, the County of Tuolumne cannot allow the Strawberry Music Festival to occur at the site as originally permitted on the dates of Aug. 29 through Sept. 2."

Headliners this year included the Mavericks, Patty Griffin and Oakdale's Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit.

– The Modesto Bee

Modesto Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kevin Valine



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