Rain helps subdue King fire; containment at 55 percent

Rain clouds that blew in Thursday from the Pacific Ocean helped firefighters make substantial progress on the King fire, with the huge blaze declared more than half contained for the first time since it started nearly two weeks ago.

The drenching showers, cooler air and high humidity that accompanied the first rains of fall alleviated the bone-dry drought conditions that allowed the fire to race through the rugged river canyons of the Sierra Nevada.

By Thursday evening, authorities said the 95,347-acre fire was 55 percent contained. With cool, moist weather expected to continue through Saturday, officials talked about sending home some of the more than 8,000 personnel battling the blaze – the largest wildland firefighting force ever assembled in California.

“We had so much rain that we pulled nearly all the operational crews off the firelines midday,” said Mike McMillan, a spokesman for the fire’s northern command center. “For a good part of the day we let mother nature handle it.”

Dana Walsh, a United States Forest Service spokeswoman for the fire’s southern region, said the rain and efforts of firefighters had combined to slow the fire’s march through the Rubicon River drainage north of Pollock Pines.

“We had several hours of downpours on portions of the fire,” she said. “This rainfall was not enough to the put the fire out.”

Still, she said, “we’re talking about demobilizing crews. As things are winding down, the resources at risk are being reduced.”

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