The massive Rim fire on Tuesday became the seventh-largest wildfire in California’s history, and remained 20% contained as it burned in and around Yosemite National Park.
According to an update from Cal Fire on Tuesday, the Rim fire had grown to roughly 179,500 acres, or 280 square miles, and more than 3,700 fire crews were fighting the blaze.
The fire, which has already destroyed at least 23 structures and threatens two groves of giant sequoias, is now the seventh largest wildfire in “California’s recorded history,” according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
As of Monday evening, the Rim fire was already the 11th-largest wildfire in recent California history at nearly 161,000 acres.
The new distinction came on Day 11 of the massive blaze.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dick Fleishman said crews expected much of the same on the frontlines Tuesday. An overnight inversion layer once again kept smoke thick and low.
“Once that lifts, we expect fire behavior to increase as it has every day," Fleishman said.
Attention this week turned to saving a historic ranger station, stables, lakeside campsites and two groves of giant sequoias, which have withstood many fires over the centuries.
The fear is that this fire, with so much unnatural fuel sending flames higher, could get to the top of the trees and kill them.
Gary Wuchner, Yosemite National Park’s fire specialist, said sprinklers were dampening the tops of the sequoias and all nearby structures had been wrapped in fireproof material.
Most of the fire is burning in the national forest, but about 21,000 acres have been blackened in the western portion of Yosemite National Park, south of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
Firefighters caught a break Monday when the weather changed slightly with an inversion layer that stuck around long enough to chop in half the towering plume of smoke that for a week had compounded the fire.
Each afternoon has brought a towering plume of smoke rising over the flames. Inside the plume are lightning and hail, and when the plume collapses, it sends wind pushing the fire in all directions.
Hitting 20% containment Monday was a significant gain considering it was just 7% contained the day before.
Marcum reported from Groveland, Schaefer and Wells from Los Angeles.