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Yosemite National Park reopens area burned by Rim fire

Thousands of acres of Yosemite National Park that were closed to the public since last year's massive Rim fire have been reopened, park officials announced Wednesday.

However, park officials cautioned visitors to the affected areas — which include Hetch Hetchy hiking trails and the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias — about potential risks such as "hazardous trees, uneven ground, potential rockfall, and down and dead debris on trails."

Fire restrictions also have been lifted, but could be put in place again later this year because of California's extreme drought conditions, the park statement said.

The 410-square-mile fire — the state's third-largest on record — was sparked Aug. 17 by a hunter's illegal campfire in the Stanislaus National Forest. The blaze scorched swaths of forest, burning into the northwest part of Yosemite before it was fully contained in late October.

Yosemite officials said an estimated 77,000 acres — about 120 square miles — burned within the park.

Experts have said the ecological effects of the blaze will probably last for decades as massive trees were wiped out and habitats of rare species were severely altered. Officials have since debated the best way to handle the largest recovery effort the Sierra Nevada has seen.

President Obama signed a disaster declaration in December for the state of California, making federal funds available for recovery efforts related to the Rim fire. One study has estimated that the damage could range between $250 million and $1.8 billion.

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