Letter Writer: Punish ‘Dolts’ Who Spoil Nature

September 17, 2013 by · Comments Off on Letter Writer: Punish ‘Dolts’ Who Spoil Nature 

In this Friday, Aug. 30, photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a member of the Bureau of Land Management Silver State Hotshot crew from Elko, Nevada, walks through a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece, submitted by Karen Klein, appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

This land is your land, but too many dolts take that way too literally.

Set them in a public park or national forest and even generally law-abiding people suddenly think the rules don’t apply to them. Who cares if cutting illegal mountain bike trails leads to hillside erosion and disrupts wildlife? What damage can it possibly do if I take a starfish or a seashell from the ocean’s tide pools? (Probably not much until you consider that more than 1 million people visit that tide pool each year, and each one of them would like to take a starfish or a seashell.) What do you mean, I can’t start a campfire in the driest days of August right near California’s iconic Yosemite National Park? Those rules were meant for other people, people who don’t know how to contain their…


It’s been almost two weeks since authorities disclosed that the Rim fire in and around Yosemite National Park was started by a hunter who lost control of his illegal campfire in the adjacent Stanislaus National Forest. Illegal because campfires during the dry days of late summer and early fall can cause — guess what: raging infernos.

Yet investigators have not cited or charged the hunter yet, nor have they released any information about him or the progress of their inquiry. The filing of any charges will depend on various details about the hunter’s behavior, authorities said.

The public deserves a better explanation on what’s going on, and what mitigating circumstances there could possibly be for the setting of an illegal campfire.

Assuming the campfire was the cause, that it was illegal, as officials already have stated, and that the hunter’s excuse for this wasn’t that he was forced on pain of death to light the thing, the various government agencies should spare no relevant criminal or civil action against him.

But when it comes to this kind of behavior, the managers of our parks and forests must bear some of the blame. The breaking of rules is a near constant, yet there is too little enforcement, and when people are caught, they are too often let go with a slap on the wrist.

The Laguna dudleya, rare plant found only on Laguna Beach in Southern California.

About a decade ago, a ranger in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park told me about authorities there catching a plant dealer who was attempting to smuggle an endangered plant from the park. The Laguna Beach dudleya grows for the most part only on a slab of rock smaller than a kid’s bedroom. It cannot be transplanted. It can’t be propagated. That’s it. What nature still has there and possibly in a couple of other spots is all we get.

In fact, this dealer must have been a crooked businesswoman (or an amazingly ignorant one) as well as a nature thief. Taken from its rock, the plant would die. It did die. If she sold it to someone, that person would end up with the shriveled skeleton of a Laguna dudleya.

Yet the fine amounted to $5,000. Not minor, to be sure, but a measly fine for the destruction of a critically endangered plant. Time behind bars, and a big enough fine to send her into bankruptcy, might have just been enough.

People should feel very nervous about treating public spaces as their personal property where they make the rules. Because, like the song says, this land is your land, but it’s my land too.



Western Forest Fires – An Overplayed Crisis?

September 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Western Forest Fires – An Overplayed Crisis? 

Forest fires threatened campgrounds across the U.S. West this season. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The horrific wildfires that scorched over 230 square miles of forest land near Yosemite National Park in California and more than 150 square miles in Central Idaho in August were the most dramatic of hundreds of wildfires that are making this year one of the worst U.S. fire seasons on record.

On Aug. 26, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, 50 major uncontained wildfires were burning throughout the West, including California, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. More than 19,000 firefighters were fighting the fires.

In California, more than 3,000 firefighters battled the Rim Fire as it burned just outside of Yosemite. Yosemite Lakes RV Resort at Hardin Flat, an Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS) park, was in the middle of the burn area. Yosemite Ridge in Buck Meadows was temporarily evacuated but campers were allowed to return, after the fire burned right up to but not through the park. A third neighboring park, Yosemite Pines in Groveland, seemed safe as the fire appeared headed away from there.

These and similar campgrounds and RV parks in the paths of these flaming cauldrons across the Western U.S. have fallen victim in one way or another. But, says the executive of one state campground association, campers should remember to keep the fires in perspective.

“What is always disheartening to me is, people think the entire state is on fire,” Anne Chambers, executive director of the Boise-based Idaho RV Campgrounds Association (IRVCA), told Woodall’s Campground Management on Aug. 21. “That is not the case. Do we have major fires? Yes. Will they disrupt travel plans for most people? Probably not.”

Indeed, on that date, while several national forest campgrounds in the mountainous Sawtooth National Forest region of central Idaho were closed due to the Beaver Creek Fire which started on Aug. 7, Chambers knew of only one privately owned park, the Meadows RV Park in Ketchum, that was directly affected by the blaze. The 43-site park is located on U.S. 75 just south of Sun Valley. (See related story.)

Thirty miles to the east of the major fires, at the Craters of the Moon KOA in Arco, Idaho, life was pretty much as usual.

“People are asking us how the smoke is before they come here,” said Debbie Belknap, acting manager. “We can see the smoke in the air far away but we can’t smell it. I’ve only been here for a few weeks but I can’t say that it has affected anything.”

A few of the campers were evacuees from the fire zone. They had packed up what they could in their two vehicles and headed to the KOA earlier in the month, she noted. They have since left.

Most of Idaho’s 250 privately owned campgrounds were not affected by the fires, Chambers stressed.

In fact, Chambers said, “It’s been a great season for most of the campgrounds, and a banner season for some of them. The RV population in Idaho has been traveling and it’s been fabulous. I have yet to hear anyone say it (business) has been off this year. To this point it’s been good. I’m grateful the fires didn’t start until later in the season. It allowed most (parks) to have a good May, June, July and most of August.”

But all this does not hide the fact that fighting the Beaver Creek Fire and the nearby Elk Fire was the National Forest Service’s (NFS) No. 1 priority that month, Chambers was told during a meeting with NFS officials in Boise as the fires raged.

More than 1,200 people and 19 aircraft battled the lightning-caused Beaver Creek Fire. Nearly 90 fire engines were assigned to the region, many protecting homes in the affluent area where celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways.

While Boise lies some three hours west of the fire zone, it was more or less unaffected by the inferno. In past years when fires burned in the national forests, it was not unusual for Chambers to smell smoke in the state’s Treasure Valley on the west side of the state where Boise is located.

“Not so much this time,” she said. “The wind seems to be blowing from west to east and blowing the smoke into Montana instead of blowing it our way,” she said.

Elsewhere in the region, in nearby Yellowstone National Park, a series of five wildfires became known as the “Druid Complex” and covered more than 11,000 acres.

Speaking for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), which has numerous campgrounds in the West, “aside for a bit of smoke (even in Billings) campgrounds are unaffected. All are open and operating as usual,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications.

California Fires

In California, fires affected several campgrounds too.

In this Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a member of the Bureau of Land Management Silver State Hotshot crew from Elko, Nevada, walks through a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in Calif. / MIKE MCMILLAN,AP PHOTO/U.S. FOREST SERVICE

In Stanislaus National Forest area just outside Yosemite National Park, some 900 firefighters were battling the Rim Fire that started on Aug. 17 and had scorched more than 100 square miles within the first week. A state of emergency was declared. Several camps were evacuated that day as a safety precaution. Those included: San Jose’s Family Camp, Berkeley Tuolomne Camp, San Francisco’s Mather Camp and Camp Tawonga. About 200 senior citizens and a few dozen staffers were forced to evacuate from Camp Mather, which is owned and operated by the city of San Francisco as a public getaway for city families and was hosting a special week for the group.

The national park itself remained open and tourism was reported at normal levels inside the park.

The Chariot Fire broke out on July 6 near Julian, 60 miles east of San Diego, and destroyed the lodge, dining hall and all but about a dozen of 116 cabins at Al Bahr Mount Laguna Shrine Camp. A Sierra Club lodge across the road also burned.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Shriner Donald Wierman told U-T San Diego.

The camp, located in the Cleveland National Forest, was leased from forestry officials in 1921. It was at an elevation of 6,000 feet. About 30 people were evacuated from cabins and campgrounds before the fire hit.

Merchants in the mountain community of Idyllwild, which relies heavily on summer tourists, saw profits wane in the face of two major fires this summer, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.

Visitors were slowly returning to towns in the San Jacinto Mountains after the Mountain Fire in July burned more than 27,000 acres of forest and led to a four-day evacuation for Idyllwild and a few other towns.

Then, the Silver Fire burned south of Banning in mid-August, closing Highway 243 and cutting off access to Idyllwild from the north.

On the south side of the mountain, the Lake Hemet Campground saw a definite decline in business. The campground was emptied during the Mountain Fire and served as a base for some of the 3,000-plus firefighters who were on duty. Now, operators are hoping campers will return.

“During the fire, people were calling up and cancelling,” General Manager Tim Colvin said in mid-August. “People think we were damaged here and they’re not calling. The phone should be ringing a lot more than it is right now.”

Mid-July to mid-August is traditionally the campground’s busiest season, with occupancy rates topping 80% for the park’s 600 spaces.

Two weeks after the Mountain Fire, occupancy was less than 70%.

The campground, which has fishing and boating as well, offered some bargains in hopes of attracting campers. Anyone who signed up for two nights of camping got a third night free, and those who stayed two nights got a free boat launch.

“We want people to know this campground wasn’t affected in any way,” Colvin said.

Camp Colorado Touts State

Camp Colorado takes lead in responding to wildfire news.

In June, Colorado was racked by several fires, one of them destroying the aerial tramway in the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park near Canon City. The fire burned 3,218 acres before being declared 100% contained on June 17. The park was within the burn area and, while the bridge itself survived, 48 of the park’s 52 buildings were destroyed.

Camp Colorado Executive Director Josh Keltner, in an appearance on Denver television on June 21, encouraged campers and other tourists to visit the Royal Gorge Region, which rebounded nicely following the three-day fire that damaged the Royal Gorge Bridge but left all private campgrounds unaffected.

“If you’re planning to go to the Royal Gorge Region this weekend or anywhere in the near future and you were thinking about canceling because of the fires, don’t,” Keltner told 9News, the Denver TV station.

9News went on to report that while the Royal Gorge suspension bridge needs repair, the railroad below “is 100% open and… this weekend the river is open thorough the gorge too, a relief to the workers who depend on tourists.”

The station made note of a large fire burning that same day near the Colorado town of South Park, 155 miles southwest of Cañon City. But that fire wasn’t affecting other areas of the state, which has 350 private campgrounds – virtually all of them open.

Camp Colorado, the state’s campground trade association, played a key role in correcting the misimpression that the Royal Gorge Region should be avoided. With the exception of the bridge, which reopened later in the summer, stores, restaurants and museums were open, and biking, hiking and rafting opportunities abounded.

The Black Forest Fire erupted in June near Colorado Springs and scorched more than 25 square miles, killed two people and destroyed nearly 400 buildings. The blaze surpassed last June’s Waldo Canyon Fire as the most destructive in state history.

Other Areas

While central Idaho burned, crews continued battling other wildfires across the West, including a group of three fires near the Oregon city of The Dalles, on the Columbia River, The Associated Press reported.

In Utah, a series of mountain fires burned more than a dozen homes in mid-August and more than 100 residents who were forced to leave Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches, about 45 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Utah’s biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire, was estimated at 50 square miles.

In New Mexico, campgrounds in almost all of the Santa Fe National Forest and some nearby state parks were closed part of June due to ongoing fire risks.

In Arizona, 19 members of an elite “hotshots” crew died while battling a separate fire on June 30. –

Jarvis: More $$$ Needed to Fight Forest Fires

September 6, 2013 by · Comments Off on Jarvis: More $$$ Needed to Fight Forest Fires 

Jon Jarvis

Federal land managers have been fighting an uphill battle to gain additional funds to reduce the threat of wildfires in the West, according to National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis.

However, according to a posting by National Parks Traveler, recent fires such as the Rim Fire that burned into Yosemite National Park seem to be sending the message to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that more money is needed to reduce fuels, the director said during a recent “National Webchat” with NPS staff across the country.

“My heart goes out to Yosemite National Park, which is dealing with the Rim Fire and to all the National Park Service employees who are currently deployed at Planning Level V. I’m sure we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of firefighters out there, on the line right now and entire organizations,” Director Jarvis said in a response to a question concerning the backlog in “fuel mitigation treatments” — forest thinning and prescribed burns, for example — in the parks.

Click here to read the entire story from National Parks Traveler.



Fire Chief – ‘Pot’ Growers a Source of Rim Fire?

September 4, 2013 by · Comments Off on Fire Chief – ‘Pot’ Growers a Source of Rim Fire? 

In this Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a member of the Bureau of Land Management Silver State Hotshot crew from Elko, Nevada, walks through a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of Mike McMillan, the Associated Press and U.S. Forest Service.

As evacuation orders and advisories were lifted Tuesday (Sept. 3) for several Sierra Nevada communities once threatened by a raging Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park comes word that the fire may have been started by illegal marijuana growers, The Associated Press reported.

Officials said they still are investigating the cause of the blaze, which started 18 days ago in an isolated area of the Stanislaus National Forest and has burned nearly 370 square miles — the fourth biggest recorded wildfire in California.

Although no cause has been announced, one local fire chief speculated the fire might have ignited in an illegal marijuana grow.

Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department told a community group recently that there was no lightning in the area, so the fire must have been caused by humans.

“We don’t know the exact cause,” he said in a talk that was posted Aug. 23 on YouTube. “Highly suspect it might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing, but it doesn’t really matter at this point.”

The video was first reported Saturday by the San Jose Mercury News.

Officials overseeing the fire suppression effort would not comment on the statement and would only say that the cause is still under investigation.

“There has been some progress but there are no additional details at this time,” said Rena Escobedo, a spokeswoman with the Rim Fire incident command team. The U.S. Forest Service is leading the investigation.

McNeal could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Illegal marijuana grows in national parks and forests have tormented federal land managers for years. Growers hike into remote canyons with poisons and irrigation lines and set up camp for months. The poisons kill wildlife and seep into streams and creeks. The growers leave tons of garbage behind.

Firefighting Cost Tops $60 Million

Meanwhile, at 235,841 acres, or roughly 368 square miles, the Rim fire was 75% contained Tuesday and fewer than 4,400 acres from moving from fourth to third place on the list of California’s largest wildfires, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The No. 3 spot belongs to the Zaca fire, which in July 2007 burned 375 square miles — or about 240,207 acres — in Santa Barbara County. About 5,000 firefighters are now battling the blaze, which started Aug. 17 and has destroyed 111 structures, 11 of them residential.

Battling the blaze, the largest in California this year, has cost $60 million in state and federal funds, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino said. Full containment is not expected until Sept. 20.

Six other fires are burning in California, down from about a dozen last week, with more than 8,000 firefighting personnel deployed across the state, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said. There has been an increase in fire activity in recent weeks, he added, because of dry conditions, gusty winds and dry lightning that sparked several hundred fires.


J. Jarvis – ‘We Are Putting This (Rim) Fire Out!’

September 3, 2013 by · Comments Off on J. Jarvis – ‘We Are Putting This (Rim) Fire Out!’ 

Jon Jarvis inspects Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said he monitored the Rim Fire’s progress daily as flames threatened Sierra Nevada communities, ancient sequoia groves and the reservoir that holds San Francisco’s water supply.

On Saturday (Aug. 31), he went to see the blaze firsthand, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“This is a gnarly fire,” Jarvis told firefighters at a morning briefing. “It’s got high attention, huge fuels, big flame lengths and lots of really, really dry, climate-driven conditions.”

Jarvis visited what has become one of the largest wildfires in California history as it continued to expand slowly and deter some visitors to Yosemite at the start of the busy Labor Day weekend.

In an interview with The Times, Jarvis said the massive Rim Fire is one example of what is to be expected across the West as climate change, drought and decades of fire suppression leave forests dried-out, overloaded with fuel and more vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.

“It is a fire that’s demonstrating the challenges that we in the land-management business are facing with climate change,” he said. “A legacy of fire suppression in these forests and, recently, a reduction in our fire funding is all resulting in these huge fires that are incredibly difficult to control and very expensive.”

To prepare the landscape, Jarvis said parks like Yosemite must reduce the fuels that have built up in forests that have not burned in many decades. Under Park Service policy, that means forest thinning, prescribed burns and, sometimes, using natural fires as a tool.

Firefighters have been battling the Rim fire since it broke out Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest. It drew worldwide attention once it crossed into Yosemite, where about a quarter of the 348-square-mile blaze is now burning.

Map shows the extent of the Rim Fire which is now burning portions of Yosemite National Park. Ranger or entrance stations are shown by little houses with flags. Map courtesy of

Jarvis’ survey of the fire followed visits last week by Gov. Jerry Brown and Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

He arrived as the blaze entered its third week during one of the most popular weekends of the year for U.S. parks. Yosemite officials say it has led to a decline in visitors, particularly starting Saturday after winds shifted and pushed fairly heavy smoke into Yosemite Valley, some 20 miles southeast of the fire’s edge.

On the road to the northern part of Yosemite, he said, he was struck by the sight of all the other vehicles heading in the opposite direction. A stretch of Tioga Road, or California 120, has been closed because of the fire, cutting off the east-west route through the park. But much of Yosemite remained open and many campgrounds were full on Saturday, a park spokeswoman said.

The smoky skies could give an idea of how the park might have looked before it was first protected nearly 150 years ago. President Lincoln signed legislation that gave Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California, a precursor to its becoming a national park in 1890.

If you had visited Yosemite back then, Jarvis said, it “would have had smoke all the time because nobody was putting out the fires. There were lightning strikes and fires just burned until winter came.”

He is not advocating for a return to that practice with the Rim fire.

“I want to be clear: There is no ‘let it burn’ policy here. We are putting this fire out,” he said. “But at the same time, we recognize fire is essential to this system.

In this Aug. 30 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a member of the Bureau of Land Management Silver State Hotshot crew from Elko, Nev., walks through a burn operation on the southern flank of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of Mike McMillan, Associated Press, and the U.S. Forest Service.


Update: ‘Let It Burn’ Policy in National Parks!

August 30, 2013 by · Comments Off on Update: ‘Let It Burn’ Policy in National Parks! 

The Rim Fire destroyed forests in a national forest and a national park. But how firefighters fight the fire is different in these two adjacent regions. Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

As the massive Rim Fire roared out of the Stanislaus National Forest and deeper into Yosemite National Park this week, public attention rose sharply.

But the intensity of firefighting did not, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That’s because part of the blaze had crossed into the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which has a more restrained approach to managing wildfires than other federal, state and local fire agencies battling the 300-square-mile blaze.

Officials estimate that it will be fully contained in two or three weeks, but it is expected to keep smoldering for weeks longer and won’t be truly out for months.

“This fire will burn until the first rains or until the snow flies,” said Lee Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Although the 4,900 firefighters here operate under a unified command, the park service has a very different firefighting philosophy from that of the forest service or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The portion of the Rim Fire burning outside the park is fought aggressively by the forest service and Cal Fire. Bulldozers rip fire lines across the landscape, and crews fell trees and set protective backfires. Helicopters and tanker airplanes drop water and retardant.

“We want to send as much equipment to a fire as we can,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “Our goal is to put it out early and avoid having a large fire.”

But inside parks, a policy often called “fire use,” accepts fire as a naturally occurring process and often a useful tool.

Click here to read the entire story.





Update: Chicago-Size Rim Fire 20% Contained

August 27, 2013 by · Comments Off on Update: Chicago-Size Rim Fire 20% Contained 

An undated photo of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The Rim Fire in California that has scorched an area roughly the size of Chicago near Yosemite National Park was 20% contained Monday nigh (Aug. 26), officials said — a jump from 7% the previous night, NBC News reported.

But fire, stretching 250 square miles, still threatens 4,500 structures as well as the power and water utilities for San Francisco, roughly 200 miles to the west. It has charred 160,980 acres and was growing rapidly, hampering suppression efforts, authorities said Monday night.

The raging flames also loomed over towering sequoias that are among the largest and oldest living things on the planet. The iconic trees can withstand fire, but brutal conditions — including harsh winds and thick brush — have prompted park employees to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves

Click here to read the entire story and to see photos from the fire.



Update: Calif.’s Rim Fire is Only 7% Contained

August 26, 2013 by · Comments Off on Update: Calif.’s Rim Fire is Only 7% Contained 

This Google map shows the proximity of the Rim Fire (shown in darker brown) to Yosemite National park.

Hundreds of firefighters were digging trenches, clearing brush and starting back blazes to keep a wildfire raging north of Yosemite National Park out of several mountain hamlets, The Associated Press reported.

Inaccessible terrain, strong winds and bone-dry conditions have hampered their efforts to contain the Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17 and has grown to become one of the biggest in California history.

Firefighters were hoping to advance on the flames Monday but strong winds were threatening push the blaze closer to Tuolumne City and nearby communities.

“This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire…,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It’s a very difficult firefight.”

The fire has consumed nearly 225 square miles of picturesque forests. Officials estimate containment at just 7%.

It continues burning in the remote wilderness area of Yosemite and is edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco’s famously pure drinking water, park spokesman Tom Medema said.

Despite ash falling like snowflakes on the reservoir and a thick haze of smoke limiting visibility to 100 feet, the quality of the water piped to the city 150 miles away is still good, say officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The city’s hydroelectric power generated by the system has been interrupted by the fire, forcing the utility to spend $600,000 buying power on the open market.

Park employees are continuing their efforts to protect two groves of giant sequoias that are unique to the region by cutting brush and setting sprinklers, Medema said.

Yosemite Natl. Park Not Impacted by Rim Fire

August 23, 2013 by · Comments Off on Yosemite Natl. Park Not Impacted by Rim Fire 

A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park nearly quadrupled in size Thursday (Aug. 22), prompting officers to warn residents in a gated community to evacuate their homes and leading scores of tourists to leave the area during peak season, The Associated Press reported.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the huge fire, one of several blazes burning in or near the nation’s national parks and one of 50 major uncontained fires burning across the western U.S.

As flames approached an area of Pine Mountain Lake with 268 homes in the afternoon, deputies went door-to-door to deliver the news and to urge people to leave, Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Scott Johnson said.

The evacuations are not mandatory, although Johnson stressed that the fire, smoke and the potential for power outages pose imminent threats.

“We aren’t going to drag you out of our house, but when we are standing in front of you telling you it’s an advisory, it’s time to go,” he said.

Fire officials said the blaze, which started Saturday, had grown to more than 99 square miles and was only 1% contained Thursday, down from 5% a day earlier. Two homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed.

While the park remains open, the blaze has caused the closure of a 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three entrances into Yosemite on the west side, devastating areas that live off of park-fueled tourism.

Officials also have advised voluntary evacuations of more than a thousand other homes, several organized camps and at least two campgrounds. More homes, businesses and hotels are threatened in nearby Groveland, a community of 600 about five miles from the fire and 25 miles from the entrance of Yosemite.

“Usually during summer, it’s swamped with tourists, you can’t find parking downtown,” said Christina Wilkinson, who runs Groveland’s social media pages and lives in Pine Mountain Lake. “Now, the streets are empty. All we see is firefighters, emergency personnel and fire trucks.”

Though Wilkinson said she and her husband are staying put – for now – many area businesses have closed and people who had vacation rental homes are cancelling plans, local business owners said.

“This fire, it’s killing our financial picture,” said Corinna Loh, whose family owns the still-open Iron Door Saloon and Grill in Groveland. “This is our high season and it has gone to nothing, we’re really hurting.”

Loh said most of her employees have left town. And the family’s Spinning Wheel Ranch, where they rent cabins to tourists, has also been evacuated because it’s directly in the line of fire. Two outbuildings have burned at the ranch, Loh said, and she still has no word whether the house and cabins survived.

“We’re all just standing on eggshells, waiting,” Loh said.

The governor’s emergency declaration finding “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property” frees up funds and firefighting resources and helps Tuolumne County in seeking federal disaster relief.

Park officials said the fire has not impacted the park itself, which can still be accessed via state Routes 140 and 41 from the west, as well as State Route 120 from the east side.

Yosemite Valley is clear of smoke, all accommodations and attractions are open, and campgrounds are full, said park spokesman Scott Gediman. During summer weekdays, the park gets up to 15,000 visitors.

“The fire is totally outside the park,” Gediman said. “The park’s very busy, people are here. There’s no reason that they should not come.”

The Yosemite County Tourism Bureau based in Mariposa has been helping tourists displaced by the fire to find new accommodations in other park-area towns, said director Terry Selk.


Update: Fire Near Yosemite Tops 16,000 Acres

August 22, 2013 by · Comments Off on Update: Fire Near Yosemite Tops 16,000 Acres 

A wildfire burning west of Yosemite National Park has forced evacuations and the closure of Highway 120, blocking one of the key entryways to the popular tourist destination.

The Rim Fire had grown to 16,228 acres as it burned into a fifth day Wednesday morning, and firefighters had only achieved 5% containment, according to a spokesperson for the interagency incident management team.

The fire threatened more than 2,000 structures, including homes, hotels and camp buildings, as it burned eastward on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

Communities along Ferretti Road were evacuated, along with Camp Towanga and the Spinning Wheel and Sawmill campgrounds.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the fire was among the nation’s top firefighting priorities, the AP reports.

Fifty-one major uncontained wildfires are burning throughout the West, according to the center, including in California, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. More than 19,000 firefighters were fighting the fires.



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