The Rim fire burning near Yosemite has burned 246,350 acres, making it the third largest fire in state history, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.
The blaze, which erupted in the Stanislaus National Forest north of the Tuolumne River on Aug. 17, has burned about 385 square miles of national forest and parkland and destroyed 111 buildings, including 11 homes and three businesses. The cost of fighting the fire reached $81 million Thursday.
The Rim fire replaced the 2007 Zaca fire in Santa Barbara County as California’s third largest ever. It started after a hunter let his illegal campfire go out of control, federal forest officials said.
"It was intended as a campfire, then for whatever reason, if it was put out improperly or left unattended … it got out of control," said Forest Service spokesman Ray Mooney. "And it grew into the Rim fire."
It is unclear what consequences, if any, the hunter will face, Mooney said. Authorities have not built enough of a case to justify an arrest yet, he said.
The hunter's campfire near Yosemite last month was illegal because of the time of year. Authorities released no details about the hunter.
With Thursday's announcement, three of California's four biggest fires have been determined to be accidental.
San Diego County's Cedar fire, which killed 15 people and burned 426 square miles in 2003, was started by a hunter who lighted two signal fires when he feared he was stranded. That person was sentenced to nearly 1,000 hours of community service and ordered to pay restitution.
In 2007, a day laborer repairing a broken water pipe sparked the Zaca fire, which burned 375 square miles. He was cited for negligence with his work equipment and had to make a video on using power tools properly in dry areas.
While authorities this week were homing in on the fire's origin, state firefighters were drawing back. About 1,500 firefighters from the state fire protection agency began returning to regular assignments Sunday, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. State prisoners were also being called back.
Over the last two weeks, Cal Fire crews have shored up heavy defenses along the Rim fire's northern and western faces, from Pinecrest to Groveland.
On Thursday, crews completed burnout operations along Tioga Road on the fire’s southern face – helping to complete a defensive line where most of the flames have spread in recent days.
About 3,600 firefighters remain in the area putting out spot fires as the flames retread old ground, burning up whatever vegetation remains.
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