Containment of the massive Rim fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park reached 80% Wednesday morning as firefighters continued to make progress in slowing the blaze’s spread.
The size of the fire changed little overnight and remained at 235,841 acres, or 368 square miles, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Evacuation advisories were lifted for Ponderosa Hills and areas along the south side of California 108 up to Pinecrest.
More than 5,100 firefighters were fighting the flames at the blaze’s peak. About 4,300 remained in the area Tuesday, officials said.
“We’re making good progress,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’re definitely seeing the tables turn as we advance toward total containment.”
All evacuations on the north end of the fire off California 108 in Tuolumne County were lifted at noon Tuesday, and winds that pushed a blanket of smoke and haze over the Yosemite Valley over the weekend were expected to shift this week.
The Rim fire has destroyed 111 buildings, including 11 residences. It has so far cost $72 million to fight. Though the fire’s size is extraordinary, the conditions that caused it are not, Berlant said. The coming months are California’s typical fire season during which drier air and stronger winds spell disaster.
“This fire really showed us just how dry the timber is at higher elevations,” Berlant said.
For their part, U.S. Forest Service officials said investigators have made progress toward determining the fire’s cause, but wouldn’t elaborate. The fire chief in the town of Twain Harte, however, told an audience of residents days after the blaze broke out that he’s sure the fire wasn’t sparked by natural causes.
“We know it’s human-caused,” Chief Todd McNeal said at the Aug. 23 meeting. “But we don’t know the exact cause. It’s highly suspected it might have been some sort of illicit grow, marijuana-grow type of thing.”
The fire started at Jawbone Ridge, north of the Tuolumne River, an area that McNeal said has “zero foot access” and had no recent lightning strikes.