Crews spark their own fires to cut off path of Yosemite fire

Firefighter Brandon Wenger stands along California 120 while monitoring a backfire intended to impede the Rim fire near Yosemite National Park.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Firefighters on Wednesday night started a new type of attack on the Rim fire, lighting back burns south of Hetch Hetchy reservoir to prevent the blaze from jumping into rugged terrain and spreading farther east in Yosemite National Park.

A crew of several dozen firefighters began using drip torches to burn a wide swath of forest along ridgelines beyond the fire’s eastern flank in Yosemite, park officials said.

The crews will burn a path more than 15 miles long, working south of the reservoir and along Tioga Road.

There are now 4,840 firefighters battling the Rim fire – the sixth largest fire in state history. The blaze is 30% contained and has cost nearly $40 million to fight so far, officials said.


The fire has burned about 301 square miles, an area bigger than Chicago or San Francisco. Containment is expected about Sept. 10.

The controlled burns are a protective measure against the expansion of a fire that has grown to such a size due in large part to an extreme buildup of fuel, said Tom Medema, chief of interpretation and education at Yosemite.

“A crown fire like this is an unnatural, unhealthy kind of fire that burns way up into the tops of trees,” Medema said. “We have to stop that, or it’s going to destroy everything in its path.”

The back burns are also a way to contain the fire without bringing in bulldozers and building firelines, which can be difficult to do in hard-to-reach wilderness areas of Yosemite, where there are restrictions on road-building and using mechanized equipment.


“Any time you add fire to fire, you have got to be really careful,” said Dick Fleishman of the U.S. Forest Service. “The advantage is we’re fighting fire under our terms instead of it pushing and us chasing it all the time.”


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