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As Rim fire rages near Yosemite, communities start to dig in

As the Rim fire spread to more than 105,000 acres Friday -- crossing into Yosemite National Park -- residents of the small nearby mountain communities said the blaze was among the biggest they had encountered.

"I've been up here 11 years," said Shirley Sarno, owner of the Gunn House Hotel in Sonora. "This is the worst fire that I have seen."

The wildfire, which spread into a remote area of Yosemite National Park, has destroyed nine structures and is threatening 4,500 more, according to a recent update by the U.S. Forest Service.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday, as the blaze spread in two directions, scorching the sides of rugged canyons and ridges. The blaze is just 2% contained, officials said.

PHOTOS: Rim fire rages near Yosemite

So as flames have edged toward the communities of Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake and Buck Meadows, residents and visitors have headed for lower ground. But the area is no stranger to fire, and many residents have plans in place for such an event.

Red Cross spokesman Jordan Scott said that on Thursday, 102 evacuees stayed at the evacuation center set up at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. The center has a 1,000-person capacity.

"The general rule is you get about 10% of the number evacuated," he said. "I don't know whether we'll hit that 10%."

On Wednesday night, Scott said, volunteers were anticipating about 150 people, but 58 showed up.

He said that because many of the houses under evacuation advisories are vacation homes --combined with the fact that residents are no strangers to wildfires -- many already have contingency plans in place.

Sarno's 22-room hotel, which is already normally booked up this time of year, was filled with a mix of tourists, evacuees and firefighters. Some looking for a room have been forced to travel about 35 miles away to Oakdale, she said.

Closer to the blaze in Groveland, Peggy Mosely said it was mostly members of the media staying at the Gold Rush-era hotel she owns.

She said that over the two decades she's owned the Groveland Hotel, she's seen "many" large wildfires, and that the hotel has procedures in place should she need to clear out.

Still, Mosley added, the fire's proximity to the Pine Mountain Airport has made it the scariest she remembers.

Larry Brown, who was volunteering for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department, said the Rim fire was "coming in at a close second" to a rash of wildfires that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the state in 1987.

Four firefighters died battling those blazes, including one in the Stanislaus National Forest, who was crushed by a falling tree. Tuolumne County was among the hardest hit areas.

Nevertheless, Sarno said, most residents seem to be staying calm through the most recent blaze.

"You've just sort of got to take it one day at a time," she said.


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