(Adds byline, details on smoke reaching Yosemite Valley and new
figures on size)
By Jonathan Allen and Kevin Murphy
Aug 31 A massive wildfire that has charred the
northwest edge of Yosemite National Park in California has sent
smoke into a scenic and previously unaffected area, obscuring
views of popular landmarks on Saturday for tourists who visited
The smoke from the fire, which broke out two weeks ago,
spread to the area during a holiday weekend that in the past
years has seen the park fill with visitors.
Shifting winds brought heavy smoke from the so-called Rim
Fire to Yosemite Valley, an area famed for its towering granite
rock formations, waterfalls and pine forests, according to the
park's website and footage from cameras posted on the site that
showed smoky conditions.
Yosemite Valley has been open to visitors and largely smoke
free in recent weeks, but a park official said smoke began
wafting into the area late on Friday. It also reached the Wawona
area to the south, the park's website said.
The Rim Fire had charred nearly 223,000 acres (89,000
hectares) by late Saturday. Most of the damage was in the
Stanislaus National Forest which spreads out from Yosemite's
The blaze has blackened about 6 percent of Yosemite's wilder
backcountry, said National Park Service Director Jonathan
The Rim Fire was 40 percent contained on Saturday afternoon,
up from 35 percent earlier in the day.
"We are moving in the right direction," said Trevor
Augustino, spokesman for the U.S. Fire Service at Rim Fire
Flames early on Saturday were heading toward two groves of
the park's famed sequoia trees, Jarvis said.
"This is not a catastrophe for Yosemite National Park," he
said in a phone interview after surveying the affected areas.
"These trees are very old and it's not the first fire they've
Firefighters carried out controlled burnings the previous
night around the groves to clear away debris from the forest
floor that could otherwise fuel a fire to such an intensity that
it dangerously licks at the trees' crowns.
Lower-intensity fires, on the other hand, play a vital role
in the reproductive cycle of the tough-barked sequoia, many of
which bear the scars of past wildfires, by releasing the seeds
from their cones and clearing the soil in which they germinate.
The blaze has edged out the 1932 Matilija wildfire in
Ventura County to become the fourth-largest California wildfire
on record, according to figures from the California Department
of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Jarvis estimated that firefighting efforts had cost state
and federal agencies about $54 million. He criticized a decline
in federal funding for fire-prevention work, including the
practice of controlled fires that make a wildfire of this
intensity less likely.
More than 5,000 people are working to put out the fire,
including firefighters from agencies across California and
nearly 700 specially trained California prison inmates.
Some 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, most going
during the peak months of June through August. Some 620,000
normally visit the park in August alone, but due to the fire,
attendance has dropped.
"It's not super substantial, but it is noticeable," park
spokeswoman Kari Cobb said earlier this week about the drop.
Tourism-dependent businesses around the park have bemoaned a
slump in visitors at the peak of the late-summer tourist season.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Kevin Murphy in
Kansas City; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Mohammad Zargham)